Tuesday, February 7, 2017

DMI2017, Week 5: "Morality" by Stephen King

The story this week is brought to you by the Queen of Spades, from Stephen King's recent collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. This story was originally published in Esquire magazine.


I came to this story with high hopes based on its premise: morality is a slippery slope, and the simplest, seemingly non-consequential act can lead to things that are not so simple and non-consequential. Maybe I misunderstood its premise, or maybe this was the wrong story at the wrong time, or maybe it's just a not-so-good story -- but whatever the reason, I wasn't feeling this story this week.

The plot, however, is simple. Chad and Nora, a young married couple, have money issues. Chad is a substitute school teacher but has dreams of writing a book, and he's halfway there with an offer from a real agent, if he can only free up enough time to get the writing done. Nora works as a private home health nurse for a retired minister by the name of George Winston. Her job is all that's keeping them afloat, but things may get better soon: the Reverend Winston has proposed an arrangement that will put them solidly in the black for a long time, long enough certainly to allow Chad to finish his book and get it published.

But here's where the story goes off the rails for me. Reverend Wilson is fabulously wealthy, through a combination of old family money and plain living, and he proposes a deal with Nora. He has never really sinned in his life, he says -- at least, nothing major. But here at the end of his life, he's curious and now wants to see what it's like. The only problem is, he's bedridden and housebound, so he has to do his sinning vicariously through someone else, and that's where Nora comes in. He offers her $200,000 to commit a sin of his choosing and produce verification of the same on video. The story does get very interesting at this point, because the creepy, manipulative way in which Winston entices Nora into the deal shows that he's much more acquainted with sin than he might think. Either that, or he's completely clueless about it, despite his position as a well-respected minister.

King keeps the reader in suspense for as long as possible about what sin Nora is going to have to commit. I won't give the story away by telling what it is, but hopefully it's not spoiling the story too much to say that, while shocking and violent, the sin turns out to be not so awful. But maybe that's the point. The effect of the sin on Nora, Chad, and their relationship turns out to be much more consequential. Nora becomes more violent in her dealings with others, and Chad's writing loses the spark that made it appealing in the first place. And their marriage generally just falls apart. In fact, nothing ends well in this story.

So while this was a good story and well worth the time, I was not as enamored of it as some of King's other stories. Maybe I was just expecting a good horror story and got a philosophical drama instead. Still, it ranks four stars with me.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. "Chad is a substitute school teacher but has dreams of writing a book" sounds autobiographical for King, if you've read his book "On Writing" which tells of an early time in his life in a similar situation. Also sounds a little like that bad movie "Indecent Proposal" :-) Generally, King hits a home run with me too, and the fact that his weaker efforts still get four stars says a lot about how good he is. :-)

    1. You're right on target, Jay. I did not mention it in this review, but one of the cool things about this particular King collection is that he included a short intro to each story, as a way of explaining his inspiration and thoughts behind the writing of the story. And yes, this one was pretty highly autobiographical.