Released less than a week ago, Stephen King’s latest offering to his Constant Readers is a nostalgic trip set in a retirement home. Certainly not the first time we’ve entered the world of senior assisted living communities with The King of Horror, but I’m not complaining. It’s actually an interesting evolution in King’s fictional universe over the last few decades. King continues to age like a fine wine as a writer, still as sharp as a tack, but whereas some stories during his prime were set in schools (Carrie, Christine, Sometimes They Come Back), we’re seeing more and more set in the community that many spend their final years in (Batman and Robin Have an Altercation, Mister Yummy, Cookie Jar). King has never made qualms with the time allotted to us here on this mortal plane and the stories are never bitter in this particular setting. Actually, quite the opposite as most of these characters have enough vinegar and sense of humor in them to understand that they are nearing the end of the line without seeing it as a death march.
Considering King’s knack for nostalgic storytelling, his geriatric characters are as enthralling as any of King’s characters and this latest story is no different.
Cookie Jar, released on June 23rd in VQR, is the story of ninety-year-old Rhett recounting his childhood to his thirteen-year-old great-grandson, Dale, who is doing a school project on his oldest living relative.
Rhett begins by telling Dale about the Philco radio that was the main source of entertainment in the Alderson household when Rhett was a youngster. Soon the story takes a hard left and Dale learns of a magical cookie jar that has been in Rhett’s possession since his mother killed herself when he was a child.
King hasn’t done a lot of “all-out” terror as of late, with Doctor Sleep being the closest thing to “classic King” as of late, however real-life terror such as Nazis, concentration camps, war and the Pearl Harbor attack are certainly nightmares to an entire generation. These horrors mix with this nostalgic tale of a man and his magic cookie jar seamlessly. The cookie jar never goes empty. One day, upon finally reaching the bottom of the ceramic jar after dumping “mountains of cookies” out in his room, an adult-aged Rhett sees a magical land that his mother told him about when he was a youngster.
Moira Alderson, the mother of Rhett and his two brothers, committed suicide decades earlier by slitting her wrists after what most attributed to a mental breakdown. However, upon seeing the magical land inside the cookie jar, Rhett suddenly wonders just how “crazy” those maps Mom drew and the tales she told of an evil force threatening to burn down the entire free world were. Was his mother truly “crazy” or was she struggling to cope with the very real horror of the Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler?
It’s a nice story of an older generation teaching the younger generation something, in this case how amazing the radio was as opposed to iPhones and the internet, that turns into a secret between great-grandfather and great-grandson. Dale is gifted the cookie jar by Rhett at the end of the story and while Dale promises to be careful with the item, Rhett knows all too well that good intentions can only go so far.
Cookie Jar is a quick read at twenty-three pages and any new King is good King, in this writer’s mind.