“I Contain Multitudes”
What is a novella? In some quarters, it’s defined as a long short story or a short novel. But this is the Stephen King Universe we’re dealing with, where “The Langoliers,” coming it at over 90,000 words—a length many writers would find appropriate for a novel—is considered a novella because it was bundled with three other works of similar length. On the other side, some often consider the four entries in The Bachman Books novellas because they are bundled in similar fashion when, in fact, all four were originally published as standalone novels.
During his live reading of the first chapter of the novella “If It Bleeds” on YouTube last week, King described the book If It Bleeds as a collection of three novellas and a short novel. The four works, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” “The Life of Chuck,” “If It Bleeds,” and “Rat” come in at 85, 60, 187 and 85 pages respectively.
The original King novella collection, Different Seasons, was notable in that three of the four stories had no supernatural elements. The same claim could almost be made about If It Bleeds, although with some caveats. Strange things appear in every story—a dead man avenging the protagonist, a room where people see visions of impending death, a shapeshifting scavenger, and a talking rat that grants wishes—but an argument could be made that in at least two stories, and maybe three, the existence of the supernatural is, itself, speculative. It could also be based on assumptions made by the characters or their delusions. About the fourth story, though, there is no question.