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Stephen King has been clacking away — it's hard to imagine him writing his tales of terror on anything other than a typewriter — for over 50 years. He tried to retire in 2002 (so laughable in hindsight, like the introduction of New Coke, which was discontinued the same year) but fortunately for what he calls his "Constant Readers," it never took.

"You Like It Darker," a collection of 12 short stories and novellas, is the latest addition to King's massive oeuvre. Much of the material is new or newish. Happily, King's characteristic muscular prose is retained, practically giving off whiffs of aftershave, filterless cigarettes and beer. Old school and yet not. No one puts together a tale quite like him, and it's as fascinating to hear about how the stories came together as it is to read them.

"Rattlesnakes" came to him full-blown, King claims in the afterword. One of my favorites, it wrangles together twin boys who died young; their mother, who pushes their stroller around; a man, Vic Trenton, who escapes COVID-19 by staying in a friend's unoccupied Florida home, and, of course, snakes. But Trenton isn't just any main character. He comes by way of "Cujo" — he's the man whose family is terrorized by a rabid St. Bernard in the 1981 novel. How that terrible ordeal colors the one in "Rattlesnakes" deepens "You Like It Darker"'s creepiest tale.

"The Answer Man," my other favorite, was resurrected, King continues in the afterword. A long-forgotten six-page fragment that his nephew unearthed was finished when King agreed with his nephew's estimation that it was too good not to. So he did: "Those first pages were written when I was thirty. I finished it when I was seventy-five. While working on it, I had the oddest sense of calling into a canyon of time and listening for the echo to come back."

It reads like that, too. Phil Parker meets the title character at three critical points in his life in a sort of achingly melancholic, genie-in-a-bottle story. As the last in the collection, "The Answer Man" fittingly echoes many themes King has touched on over his career: nostalgia for a different time, ordinary lives intersecting with the supernatural, loss and grief. If it had included bullies and dreams, it would have been the perfect embodiment of a King story.

You Like It Darker
You Like It Darker

Those elements can be found in "Willie the Weirdo," "The Dreamers" and "Danny Coughlin's Bad Dream," my third favorite. At 150 or so pages, the collection's longest work is about a man whose nightmare leads him to the body of a murdered young woman. Traces of "The Shining" swim to the surface, as do elements of "Les Misérables," strangely enough, as Danny negotiates the fallout from his flash of clairvoyance: an obsessed law enforcement officer who is convinced Danny killed the woman.

Despite the title, the stories in "You Like It Darker" are not too macabre, although the short ones tend to be more so than the longer ones. What's obvious is that King's skills as a storyteller remain undimmed, and following him into the dark, the light or anywhere in between is never a bad bet. As if anyone could resist.

You Like It Darker

By: Stephen King

Publisher: Scribner, 512 pages, $30.