Stephen King's New Short Story Is 'Drunken Fireworks.' Happy 4th.

The old master, in familiar territory.


Sometimes after I’ve seen some band in their fourth decade of touring — your AC/DCs, your Motorheads, your Slayers, the usual suspects — I wonder what it must feel like to play the same chord progression and sing the same verses and live with it over and over and over again. I get it, if you’re a Johnny Ramone or somebody and you get to pummel through Blitzkrieg Bop every night, that makes sense. But if you’re 20-odd-years out from writing Crash Into Me you’ve probably learned better by now, and run your pick down those strings with a certain resentment about how a past version of you condemned present you to go through the motions yet again in front of a stadium full of people, a YOLO ankle tattoo you still have to see every time you get undressed.

I find myself in similar contemplation after listening to Stephen King return to familiar territory in his latest short story, “Drunken Fireworks”. That Stephen King seems to still be enjoying himself goes a long way towards getting me excited about his next book.

Since that was the point of the release to begin with, I’d call this a success. As The New York Times reports, the audiobook of King’s “Independence Day” shaggy dog story is something of an experiment. It will be included in his next short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, in stores this November. Putting it on iTunes now is the literary equivalent of dropping a single to hype an album release. This is the right time to test the market. Audiobook revenue is outpacing e-books and print, and publishers are adding thousands of titles to their catalogues. Plus, King’s always been down to tweak the system, be it an unfinished, pay-as-you-go e-book or releasing The Green Mile in serial chapbooks for its initial print run, a la Charles Dickens.

The format changes, the song remains the same. King’s constant readers will settle into a comfortable groove here. Working class heroes, this time elevated to “accidental rich” by a winning lotto ticket; Maine setting; characters given to folksy colloquialisms like having a tongue “hung in the middle so it can waggle at both ends.” Don’t take that as a criticism. If the Ramones changed their sound they wouldn’t have been so much fun.

The perfect length and subject matter for your holiday commute, “Drunken Fireworks” gives you what it promises. Over 120 minutes, narrator Tim Sample relates the story of a fireworks arms race in the nasal honk of a well-greased reveler giving a police statement. Things start innocently enough with cabins across a lake from one another battling for bragging rights to the most dazzling Fourth of July celebration. On one side you have our heroes, the perpetually sauced McCauslands, and on the other you have the old money, possibly criminal, Massimos. You may have been tipped by the detail about the police statement that things do not end well. The story is as fizzy and enduring as a late-July sparkler. But there’s a nuance of class warfare giving teeth to the satirical elements as the more recently wealthy McCauslands find their hopes frustrated over and over by the seemingly boundless resources of their rivals.

“If you listen to something on audio, every flaw in a writer’s work, the repetitions of words and the clumsy phrases, they all stand out,” King told the Times, echoing advice you’ll get in every writer’s workshop. “As a writer, I say to myself, how will that sound?”

Sounds like an artist who knows the value of staying true. Madonna, take note.