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Over the years, Stephen King's short stories have often been released as single limited edition books. These have rarely appeared in the UK, or at least I've never managed to get my hands on one. This time around, however, "Blockade Billy" has been combined with another short story "Morality" and had a release in the UK as a lovely little book. Lovely in terms of the size and design, at least, not necessarily in terms of content.
Some of King's best writing has been about baseball. I thoroughly enjoyed "Faithful", his fan's eye view of a baseball season following the Boston Red Sox which he wrote with Stewart O'Nan. For me, the best writing he's ever done, in terms of the quality of the writing, was a piece called "Head Down" from his "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" collection, where he followed his son's Little League baseball team. Knowing this, a story about baseball from the mind of Stephen King was always likely to appeal to me.
The opening story is the fictional tale of William "Blockade Billy" Blakely, who briefly played for the New Jersey Titans back in 1957. At first sight, it's almost a traditional "small town boy makes good" story, like many a sports novel or film frequently turn into. But this has come from Stephen King, which means you can never be sure exactly what to expect and that when something unexpected does occur, it's likely to have a dark turn to it.
As is typical with King's baseball based writing, this is surprisingly well written. King has created a wonderful narrator in George "Granny" Grantham and the story is told as if it's coming out of his reminiscences. King writes clearly enough that you can almost picture some of the scenes he draws and Grantham's (as well as King's) love of the game of baseball shines through the words. Whilst reading I could almost picture not just Granny, but many of the scenes he was picturing, although it does help that I know and understand a little about baseball and so could achieve that.
The one thing that didn't sit well with the story was that King wrote himself in as the person Granny is speaking to. Admittedly, it's not as blatant here as late in his "Dark Tower" series of books, but it is a personal peeve of mine when authors do this and the couple of times Granny refers to "Mr. King" do take you out of the story a little, which is a shame as it's otherwise and engrossing tale.
The quality of "Blockade Billy" which is, in my opinion, one of King's finest short stories ever, makes the other in this collection feel like even more of a disappointment. Described on the book cover as a "chilling bonus story", I found "Morality" to be neither. It wasn't chilling and it certainly couldn't be described as a bonus by any stretch of the imagination.
There is a slight hint of the film "Indecent Proposal" in the story, in as much as a woman is offered a large amount of money which her and her husband would really benefit from to carry out a certain action. Unlike the film, however, there is no sexual motive involved - the man making the offer is a retired preacher who wishes someone to commit a sin on his behalf. The story follows the people involved and how they relate to such a flagrant breach of basic human morals.
It's a decent idea for a story, but it's simply too short to do the subject justice. It feels that the story only touches around the edges of the subject and rushes through things a little too quickly. Admittedly, short stories are by nature short, but this is far too large an idea, psychologically speaking, to be contained in this format, which left me feeling unsatisfied with what there was. There was also the lack of anything chilling, as the book cover hinted at, which doubled the disappointment.
Ultimately, what we have here is one of Stephen King's greatest short stories followed by a highly disappointing one. Even the enjoyment of "Blockade Billy" may vary widely depending on your personal interest in baseball. This makes the book as a whole a little hit and miss and unless you're a Stephen King completist like I am, it's not worth buying, even at the cheapest price of £2.48 I've seen it offered for in the Amazon Marketplace, as these stories are more than likely to appear in King's next short story collection and there's not a lot here worth rushing to read now as opposed to waiting.