I realize that Stephen King is a bestselling author, therefore nothing he’s ever done could be properly classified as “underrated”. Yet when someone has 55 novels and 11 collections of short fiction under their belt, some things are bound to get overlooked more than others. When readers discuss his works, there are a lot of usual suspects. The Shining, The Stand, It, Carrie, Christine, Misery, Pet Sematary, you get the picture. Stories that are so ingrained in pop culture that even people who’ve never read them or seen an adaptation know the plot and can quote famous lines. I love these stories, too, but let’s look at some that aren’t as widely known.
Lisey’s Story. This is a personal favorite of mine that I see get either ignored or generally panned. This book was inspired by King’s accident in June of 1999. A lot of his later work has pulled off of that experience, and in this case he explores the idea of… what if he had died? What if Tabitha, his wife, had been left to deal with the aftermath? And so we have Lisey’s Story.
Lisey’s husband was an author and an eccentric man with a strange past, and she spends the book piecing together what she knew of him. There’s a man seeking what’s left of her husband’s work and willing to do anything to get it. There’s some magic. There’s some of the scariest horror that I’ve ever read in one of his novels. Also, probably his most beautiful and realistic love story. If anyone has anything bad to say about this book, please don’t listen to them. Try this out. It’s unique in his catalogue of work, and it’s worth every page.
Gerald’s Game. Some might argue that this one is plenty popular, and most people know what it’s about. I don’t think that’s entirely true. A woman goes to a cabin with her husband. He handcuffs her to the bed. He dies. She’s stuck there. Most people know that much, but that’s scratching the surface. What Jessie Burlingame endures and discovers about herself makes this a page-turning thriller. It’s not for the faint of heart in any capacity, as it’s violent and disturbing on many levels, meaning he’s as Kingy as ever if that’s what you fear might be lacking. Again, like the previous book I mentioned, this has a female lead that King went above and beyond to give life to. All you Gillian Flynn readers out there ought to read this classic.
The Dark Half. This one is a personal favorite from way back. I’ve been reading King for many years, and this rocked my world the first time I encountered it. We follow Thad Beaumont on a truly bizarre journey. When he was younger, he had these headaches that resulted in an absorbed twin being surgically removed from his brain. Hooked in yet? No? Well, he has a pseudonym he writes under: George Stark. A real hardcase. One day, when a reader of his work tries to blackmail him regarding this pseudonym, Thad comes clean to the public and “kills” George. But George comes back.
That premise alone, people. King dips often into the well of psychic phenomenon, but he’s never done it quite like this. This book has been criticized as it was one of the first King wrote sober, meaning he was in a weird head space and maybe it shows. But considering King at rock bottom was The Tommyknockers, I’d call it an incredible improvement and recommend everyone take this wild ride.
From a Buick 8. I think this one got dismissed because “another evil car?” Definitely not that simple. This car and the strange driver that abandoned it were reported to the local police department (in Pennsylvania! That alone sets it apart!), and they’ve kept it under wraps ever since thanks to a high degree of weirdness surrounding said car. I don’t want to spoil too much, but King dips a toe into his trusty Lovecraftian inspirations for this one. If you want a story wrapped up neatly in a bow, Buick 8 is not about that. For that reason, the mystery of it will haunt you long after you’ve put the book down. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the individual, but I consider it very, very good.
Duma Key. So many of King’s post-accident books are not as widely regarded as they should be, and this is probably the saddest victim of that. This has got to be one of the best books he’s ever written, and no one really talks about it. Edgar Freemantle gets in a terrible accident. He loses an arm, suffers brain damage, and the road to recovery is long and hard. King really unloads about physical therapy and trying to get back to normal, which makes the whole thing blisteringly real. But that’s not all.
Edgar starts to paint. He’s good at it, and he enjoys it. Then he starts to paint with the arm that’s not there, and strange things emerge. Again, psychic powers of the very weird variety are one of King’s favorites, but this is so unique. There’s a mystery here to be solved. There’s a monster. It’s all classic King but in new ways that make it feel so shiny and different, which is the best way an author can operate. Returning to old favorites but with new polish.
Those are my recommendations! If you want to talk about King’s work in the comments, I welcome you to it. And if you want to support this blog, check out my RedBubble shop. Purchase something. Share the link. It all helps. Happy geeking!