In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill

Maybe it’s because I started reading Stephen King at age 11. Maybe it’s because I have a darker sense of humor than the average Palahniuk fan. Maybe it’s that all of my repressed childhood issues – that I’m currently blissfully unaware of – are trying to burst forth. Whatever the reason may be, I’m rarely disturbed by literature. Sure I once wrote a list dedicated to literature’s most disturbing characters, but am I really disturbed by Guy Woodhouse? No, I’m more disturbed by my adamant belief that the selfish, passive sell-out deserves to be castrated (I’ll be a famous movie star; you have the devil’s baby – fair, right?).

I’m more likely to be unsettled by the traditional romance novel. Hello, I’ve known you two days; we’ve had the best sex imaginable in every possible place. She’s a virgin, he’s a whore – they get married and live happily ever after. I am perhaps condensing the plot a bit, but you get the general idea (unless it starts out with passionate hatred which quickly turns into an equally passionate love affair). Who am I to judge? According to this list (which you must read because it’s perfectly tongue-in-cheek): my love of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing indicates that ‘you think affection is best shown in insult form — and you expect a lot from your lover.’ Possibly true.

However, despite my absurdly strong psyche and my low tolerance for romance novels, the inevitable has finally happened. I was disturbed. I was so utterly nauseated my stomach turned.

I read In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill.


Cal and Becky DeMuth are as close as brother and sister can be without crossing that line. Becky, at 19, finds herself pregnant and alone (except for Cal). Together, Cal and Becky decide to drive to California to have the baby. They are driving through Kansas when they hear the pleas and shouts for help. With the radio off and the windows down, Cal and Becky hear a little boy pleading for rescue, he’s gotten lost in the tall grass. Not wanting to ignore the little boy, but simultaneously willing to ignore all the abandoned cars stretched along the highway, they venture into the tall grass to find him. How hard can it be?

(Never ask that question, the answer is always very, very hard.)

If Mile 81 met The Ruins (and the two were casual acquaintances with The Tommyknockers), the result might be In the Tall Grass – a novella both visceral and foreboding. I’m generally wary of author collaborations, but this one exceeded my expectations. The writing flows seamlessly and the two effortlessly craft a horror novella to remember (if, as Stephen King said, “Gross is good”). You might learn a dirty limerick or two (aside from the classic ‘There Once Was a Man From Nantucket’) and, unless you’re a sociopath, you’ll likely be physically unsettled at least once. In regards to horror novellas, I would consider that a success – if a nauseating one. 4/5. A story for the true horror fan and a bloody good read – literally, of course. It’s not for the easily disturbed or disgusted, unless you like that sort of thing. I’ll leave you with this:

What she had eaten hadn’t tasted like grass. It had tasted like sardines. Like the final sweet-salty-bitter swallow of a margarita. And like…

But what did she eat? I won’t tell you. I will tell you that the next time I drink a margarita, I will have a hard time. And I may rethink my aversion to romance novels. Although I don’t believe you’ll want to eat after reading this lovely bit of grotesquerie, I’ll recommend Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies (stolen from Kate’s review via Ambitious Kitchen). It’s got that nice bit of sea salt for added flavor, not unlike Becky’s dish of choice.



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  • Bonnie (@missbonnie13)

    Ugh, yes. This was one short story that thoroughly disgusted me and that’s pretty rare for me. Typically? Stomach of steel. Blegh. I can’t talk about this anymore. lol

    • Rory

      I’d be curious if this one is more disturbing for women. The build-up to the event, so to speak, was fantastic though. First rate horror if you can stomach the rest.

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    Well you’ve certainly intrigued me! I’m in the middle of a King right now (Under the Dome) but hadn’t read him in forever. I haven’t yet read Hill but I’ve meant to.

    • Rory

      I really like both authors and NOS4A2 is absolutely amazing. If you need a place to start with Hill, that’s a good one.

      In the Tall Grass is…something else.

      • Care

        Jennifer and I should have a NOS4A2 readalong! someday, please not soon. Still suffering from Under the Dome (and it isn’t horribly suffering – I just read it too fast. Ice cream headache-like)

  • BermudaOnion

    Okay, I’m creeped out just thinking about what may have been calling to them from the tall grass.

    • Rory

      This one definitely made me cringe. It would be a good Halloween read – it’s creepy and atmospheric. As for what’s in the grass, it’s disturbing (more so what happens in the grass).

  • booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be reading this one. The cookies on the other hand, are a firm favourite in our house so put horrid King thoughts aside and focus on all that is good about Nutella.

    • Rory

      Are you sure? It only takes about 30 minutes? In 30 minutes you could successfully kill any appetite you had and get a little creeped out…win/win sort of.

  • Care

    this lovely bit of grotesquerie?! yikes. I am on hiatus from King at the moment. And I don’t want a book to ruin my love for the state of Kansas (where’ I am from).

    • Rory

      I’d give this one a miss if I were you. It doesn’t ruin Kansas, but it doesn’t help it and the story is gross. Good, but gross.

  • Kelly

    Okay, #1 I am now starving for cookies.
    #2, I haven’t read a review that’s left me THIS intrigued in a really long time. I, too, rarely get unsettled by horror novels (and have a harder time with romance in comparison)…so now I’m wondering just how grotesque this can really be. It’s like a challenge. Hmmmmm. MUST READ SOON.

    • Rory

      It’s short, so you can get it done pretty fast. I think this is one that is slightly more disgusting for women, I suspect you’ll know what I mean if you read it (though I’ve never been a man so I can’t really say that for sure…). It’s like ‘they’re not going to go there, they’re not going to go there….oh, yuck, they did.’

      And as for Nutella, I only discovered it a few years ago – I was missing out!

  • Charlene

    Wow, I’m curious about this one! I’m not much of a horror reader, so I don’t have a stomach for it, so I’m a little scared… but still really curious! Great review, I hope I don’t regret this! 🙂

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