Of these four long stories, the first and third were King-I-don’t-like (straight horror), and the second and fourth were good examples of King-I-do-like. Interestingly, both the Dos (“Big Driver,” “A Good Marriage”) have female protagonists, and the Don’t have male. I think one of the characteristics of horror is that the “happiest” ending is basically good luck (at best aided by the courage or skill of the participants) and often temporary, and as the title indicates, a happy ending is not a given in horror. One of King’s skills is tapping into/implicitly criticizing a particular kind of American misogyny, and he doesn’t leave his female protagonists in the true dark. His male protagonists fall into two camps, the straight-up good guys (with flaws of course) like Stu Redman in The Stand and Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, and the half-bad guys like the central characters of the other two stories (“1922” and “Fair Extension”). They don’t get the happy endings. If my theory holds, you’d be able to tell pretty quickly what the tone of the ending is going to be.
The last story, “A Good Marriage,” was inspired by Paula Rader (wife of Dennis Rader), but for me it brought to mind the more recent Russell Williams case. I don’t entirely buy King’s depiction of how great the husband is before his horrible secret is revealed (surely some of his attitude towards other women would have leaked out), but it has a truly satisfying ending. I’m glad I stuck through the tin-eared approximation of period-speak in the opening “1922” to get to the end.