Updated: Sep 28
As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.
If It Bleeds is one of the latest pieces by master horror writer Stephen King, containing four novellas and was released this year around April. In this article, we'll focus on the story called "Life of Chuck," as a number of recent news articles on the internet and Amazon reviews mentioned its relation to the meaning of life.
In this novella, King paints a dystopian picture of the near future where entropy is slowly doing what entropy does best—causing the inevitable decay and an untimely unraveling of society. Society continues, people still work, go to school, teach, and you know, live life. But the internet is dying; no one is really sure why. Highways are collapsing, couples are still divorcing (and still hooking up thereafter), and the number of suicides is skyrocketing.
Then there is this guy named Chuck. Some accountant that put in 39 years (on Earth) and his picture eerily is everywhere. No one really knows who he is or why he is so important, why his mug is on billboards and Netflix error messages, and even in random home windows. But he must be someone of significance, right?
Well, Chuck's story is told backward, from the time of the death leading back to his childhood. A man's story of a life lived, a story of a man who will never take a train ride across Canada or visit Australia, but a man who danced in a suit and perhaps even left the world with a viral video two. A man's story which spanned 39 years, and a man who will never get to see his son graduate from high school. A son who doesn't understand why God has to take his father and an "Unc" who specializes in all things existential, who explains death brings philosophy to ruin. An "Unc" who would go on to tell a grieving son, The human brain is finite—no more than a sponge of tissue inside a cage of bone—but the mind within the brain is infinite. Its storage capacity is colossal, its imagination reach beyond our ability to comprehend. I think hen a man or a woman dies, a whole world falls to ruin—the world that person knew and believe in. Think of that, kiddo—billions of people on earth, and each one of those billions with a world inside. The earth their minds have conceived.
The further back in Chuck's life King goes, the further we can see the widening of possibilities, of outcomes, of paths in life Chuck can take. As we approach death, as the time draws nearer and nearer, those paths of course "narrow" as King points out—and a person realizes he or she will never be president or be a professional sports player, or best selling horror writer, or whatever else he or she once dreamt up during the youthful years we all think will never end. And so we see the unraveling of a man with brain cancer, a man who will forget his wife's name, and the inevitable collapse of a world, both inner and outer, in reverse. The fragile universe between our ears is no more protected than the Earth is from a bitterly cold and desolate universe; and should the Earth's spin start to slow, well maybe, just maybe, Netflix will finally reach its demise, along with all of its subscribers.
So what King is getting at, I believe, is that when we look up at the starry night, and we see the multitudes and the wonder and the brilliance—well, the same multitudes are within us, but just like the starry night, we have to look, but look in a different direction. Does King ever answer the question of meaning in this novella? No, but he leaves us with Chuck coming to the following realization, during his youth, of course, I am wonderful, I deserve to be wonderful, and I contain multitudes.
King tells a tale of a man, an average man—who could dance, and a boy who saw his own death (and the death of many of those near and dear to him) became a man, became a person who grew into a suit, into an accountant, and for the most part, stopped dancing, stopped dreaming, and fell into the mundane existence that mid-life brings to us all. If anything, King challenges us, not giving us answers, but begging us to see the multitudes both within and without, and reminding us the inevitable demise of both.