Stephen Kings “ Gray Matter”: Is It Important That the Story Is Set During Winter?
King’s goal was to give his readers an imaginative picture of what was going on outside to build suspense. The story really begins when the narrator and the two other men, Bertie and Henry, began their walk to Richie’s apartment building. In the sequence, the narrator and his companions “set out, bent into the wind like washerwomen, Henry trundling that cart and telling us what the boy had said. The wind was trying to rip the words away before we could hear 'em, but we got most of it - more'n we wanted to.” King is slowly luring in his reader with these descriptive words to paint the picture of the winter storm the characters in this story are experiencing on this particularly eerie night.
The favored habitat of GOCs of ME (of GOCs, in general) is the general store or its equivalent: the diner, the coffee/donut shop, the corner bar or liquor store. Or, as here, the contemporary general store, the 24-hour convenience store. Like Lovecraft, an acknowledged influence, King has enjoyed inventing his own bedeviled towns and topography. I’m not sure if he means to set this story in any of his major creations. That Henry’s Nite-Owl is on “this side of Bangor” would rule out Jerusalem’s Lot and Castle Rock, I think, which are in the vicinity of Portland. [RE: That little side story about things that’ll drive you mad in the drains sounded an awful lot like It.] It could near Derry, which is itself either near Bangor or King’s own version of Bangor. Needless to say, anything near Derry could harbor influences more than capable of contaminating beer, cheap or otherwise. Yes, college students of pretense. I don’t think you’re safe even if you stick to expensive imports or craft brews. Not purchased from purveyors of spirits within fifty miles of the Derry transdimensional epicenter, anyway. Just saying that spores from the Outer Spheres can travel across galaxies. What are a few townships to them? And is it not obvious that poor Richie Grenadine is suffering from an infestation by Larvae (or more correctly, a Larva) of the Outer Gods (specifically, of course, Azathoth, aka the Larvae-Spewer)? I mean, if you can’t see that, you need to retake Metaphysical Diagnostics 101. There is room for the theory that Violet Carver of Seanan McGuire’s “Down, Deep Down, Below The Waves,” might have wondered whether Richie was a latent Deep One and dosed his beer with her Change-inducing elixir, only to discover that elixir plus cheap brewski produced shoggoth, not Deep One. Or maybe Richie was simply a latent shoggoth. That doesn’t seem unlikely from what we hear of him. Not that I wish to speak ill of the shoggothim by the comparison! A nice contamination horror tale, but also a transformation tale, with the interesting twist of Richie kinda enjoying becoming a monster. Why not? His boring, gutted life is becoming one of growth, however fungal, and power beyond anything he ever flexed in the sawmill. Also, perhaps, the communion with untold others just like him, products of binary fission, Richies without end, amen, as long as there’s fermented nastiness enough to sustain them. I guess I’m assuming Henry isn’t the one who walks back into the Nite-Owl. I guess he’d have walked in before narrator got into the thirty-thousands if he was still in any condition to walk. I guess narrator knows that, too.
However, King has many stories that are not only motivational, but worthy of study. Because students are already familiar with King’s work and are intrigued by the genre of horror, they are willing to analyze the stories and use them as a model for their own writing. When introduced as the first readings in a unit on horror and suspense in literature, King’s short stories can be excellent springboards to the work of the classic novelists.