"The Body" follows four 12-year-old boys on a long walk along a set of railroad tracks to view a dead body. If this sounds familiar, you've probably seen the 1986 film Stand By Me that was based on the novella. The story opens with the line "The most important things are the hardest things to say," a theme I agree with that gets explored throughout. There's a lot packed into the story's 150 pages, including topics like growing up, death, friendship, and writing, and I was completely engrossed.
"The Breathing Method" also kept me turning the pages, in part because I never had any idea where it was going. It's a strangely structured tale, with a frame story that's almost as long as the supposedly main story. There's much left unanswered, including why the two stories were put together. Maybe King himself isn't sure. In the afterword to the book, he calls this novella "an off-the-wall horror story about a young woman determined to give birth to her child no matter what (or maybe the story is actually about that odd club that isn't a club)."
Also in the afterword, King discusses being typecast as a horror writer, even though that's not all he writes, as these stories demonstrate. And he talks about the difficulty of finding a market for stories of 25,000 to 35,000 words, particularly with a novella that's mainstream rather than genre. King was writing about this problem in 1982, and I'm sure it's even more difficult now to find print publications interested in works of this size.
But coincidentally, right after I read this, I saw the announcement that Amazon is introducing Kindle Singles:
Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century -- works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. . . . Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles" -- Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book.
It's a cool idea, and a logical one. Eric at Pimp My Novel has more thoughts on the subject (including noting that he had this idea a year ago): "I believe the sale of e-chapbooks, e-novellas, and even (gasp!) e-short stories via Amazon will help revitalize two flagging genres of American writing: poetry and literary fiction."
There aren't any Kindle Singles available yet, but I look forward to seeing what's offered.