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Why Is “Gray Matter” a Particularly Good Title for This Story?

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“Gray Matter” is one of King’s best short stories

It’s tight, psychologically complex, and heartbreaking. It does everything you could ask of a short story and then some. But then he follows it up with “Battleground,” one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve ever read from Stephen King. It’s genuinely awful; stock characters, a stupid premise, terrible execution, and a narrative with zero tension. Perhaps his editor thought they could sneak “Battleground” in behind the afterglow of “Gray Matter,” but regardless it’s a surprisingly large belly flop, placed at the literal heart of the book.

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At one point the narrator says he and his friends were on the corner of Harlow and Curve Street. Obviously, in this story Harlow is a street name but it was already established in Rage that Harlow is a fictional town of King's creation, too. It begs the question: Was Harlow mentioned in the first edition paperback copy of Rage (I've only ever read it in The Bachman Books omnibus, which came out years after Pet Sematary, the book in which Harlow is most prominent), or was the mention of it included in this story's first appearance in Cavalier? Were these stories edited or changed at all after their initial releases? What I'm getting at is this: I wonder when Harlow was first mentioned in King's works. Regardless, there is a mention here

A story is told of a man who worked for the Bangor Public Works Department. He went down into the sewers and came out fifteen minutes later, his hair white. He saw a spider "as big as a good-sized dog sitting in a web full of kitties an' such all wrapped up in silk thread." He immediately quit with the Public Works Department. Our narrator says this about what his old friend saw: "I'm not saying there's any truth in it, but I am saying there's things in the corners of the world that would drive a man insane to look 'em right in the face." Bygum, is this story the springboard for It, a novel that wouldn't be written or released for a decade or so after this story's original publication? I think so. Super cool.

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Obviously, a more intelligent and intriguing story than “Gray Matter”, the concept is the strongest part of “The House of the Head”. It offers plenty of unnerving and imaginative visuals, with Evie peering into her exquisite dollhouse and trying to work out what’s happening and how she can help her beloved toys. It’s particularly fun when the tiny malevolent head leaves the confines of the haunted dollhouse, even if the story doesn’t do much with that juicy idea

Indeed, there really isn’t much threat to Evie herself, which means the scares are safely contained inside the dollhouse and her experiences are more of an oddity than anything.

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