From Goodreads: At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded up rest stop on a highway in Maine. It’s a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons goes when his older brother, who’s supposed to be looking out for him, heads off to the gravel pit to play “paratroopers over the side.” Pete, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out.
Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out.
Doug Clayton, an insurance man from Bangor, is driving his Prius to a conference in Portland. On the backseat are his briefcase and suitcase and in the passenger bucket is a King James Bible, what Doug calls “the ultimate insurance manual,” but it isn’t going to save Doug when he decides to be the Good Samaritan and help the guy in the broken down wagon. He pulls up behind it, puts on his four-ways, and then notices that the wagon has no plates.
Ten minutes later, Julianne Vernon, pulling a horse trailer, spots the Prius and the wagon, and pulls over. Julianne finds Doug Clayton’s cracked cell phone near the wagon door – and gets too close herself. By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are a half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. Two kids, Rachel and Blake Lussier, and one horse named Deedee are the only living left. Unless you maybe count the wagon…
Having driven through Kansas several times, I can honestly say that abandoned (or even abandoned looking) rest stops are creepy. So when I read the premise of Mile 81, I was quite thrilled. Maine rest stops are almost as creepy as the ones in Kansas. That being said, Mile 81 is one of the more average short stories/novellas by Stephen King (a form in which he usually excels).
Most of my issues are a bit inane. The character names could be updated a bit. Given that it is set in 2011, there are not that many little boys named Pete and George running around. Pete was written a little mature for his age, but since he was trying to do something to impress his older brother, it’s possible (I don’t know what worries me more, what Pete was doing, or that my sons aren’t that far away from that age and could possibly have similar internal monologues – probably both). Finally, I found the ending abrupt.
On to the good parts… This is a fun story about one rather hungry station wagon. Pete and Rachel are the highlights of the story. While I did think Pete was slightly mature for his age, I didn’t think it was out of the realm of possibility. Those who think otherwise have clearly forgotten what it was like to be 12 and know everything (I also think 12 is “older” today than it was 30 years ago, the accessibility to information alone takes the mystery out of a great many things). There are also a few references scattered throughout the novella worth looking for. Overall, if you are already a SK fan, read it, you’ll likely enjoy it (and honestly, it only takes about an hour). This novella illustrates two things well: kids should be taken more seriously and things can be foreboding in broad daylight.
Bottom line: The premise is delightful, the story is fun (if a bit forgettable (much like this review, but, only mildly in my defense, I am exhausted – in the words of Heather Armstrong “The Kid Woke Up At Midnight And Wouldn’t Go Back To Sleep is the tagline for the new political party I’m starting. It’s called Cannibalism”). I liked it. 3/5.
Since most of the food described in story sounds heinous, I will leave you will a supremely satisfying Oreo Truffle recipe. Try it, you can thank me later.