Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut

Cliff and I were talking the other night about Stephen King and how after his last few books we had begun to think that we might never get to enjoy any new work from him, but then Duma Key had come along and we'd both loved it, and that got us to talking about King's work in general and how I had recently enjoyed The Mist and how much I liked Bag of Bones. Then Cliff mentioned that his favorite of King's short stories was a strange little Twilight Zone kind of story called Mrs. Todd's Shortcut.
I remembered the story vaguely, not having read it since 1985 when I bought the short story collection Skeleton Crew. I dug it up today and gave it a read. It is indeed a very cool story. The titular Mrs. Todd is a woman who is obsessed with finding shortcuts. With locating the shortest possible route between one place and the next. Her little sports car is filled with maps of all sorts and she has a notebook of little known side roads and paths. Slowly, as the story unfolds, you begin to realize that all of her shortcuts aren't necessarily through our own world.
The story, told in a sort of dreamlike first person by a man who is remembering his friendship with the now vanished Mrs. Todd highlights what I have come to think of as King's main strength as a writer, which is his storytelling voice. Reading good King is like having some amazingly gifted storyteller sitting there and spinning a yarn just for you. He slowly pulls you in and then completely submerges you in the world he is building. No matter how far fetched things get, for the time that he has you under his spell you will believe that what he says is true. That it happened. It's why his stuff can be so scary, I think. Because for that moment it seems real.
Though this is mostly a fantasy story, it still has elements of King's signature horror. At one point, right after Mrs Todd has made an impossibly short trip down to Castle Rock, the narrator finds some things stuck to the sides and front of her car that aren't of this world. Dangerous things. Things with teeth. The routes Mrs. Todd is driving aren't for the faint of heart.
Anyway, this is a wonderful, creepy, and somehow moving little story. I'm glad Cliff brought it up and glad I re-read it. You should read it too. But drive carefully.

15 comments:

Frank said...

I bought Skeleton Crew this past weekend and I just finished reading "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut". I searched the title on Google and landed on your blog. Just thought you might like to know that I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed your synopsis.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks, Frank. I am indeed, glad to know both.

Polyphemus' Ophthalmologist said...

I was just including a reference to this short story, which has been one of my favorites for a long time, and google came up with your blog just after the Wikipedia reference. I'd done a very late night drive over Monitor Pass and all I could think of during it was Mrs. Todd. In general, I've stopped reading S. King, but this one's a classic. Dave.

Anonymous said...

I heard this story first in talking book format. It was AWESOME, done in a Bostonian accent. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find another copy since loosing mine in the early 90s. (HT in Montreal)

arthurmacarthur said...

I'm turning this into a short film this spring. Love to get your thoughts on the script as you have an obvious and genuine appreciation for this story. Thank-you, Arthur Canning

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I'd be glad to look at it, Arthur. You can reach me through email here at the blog.

Pam/Pimi said...

Having lived in Maine for many years and LOVING DeLorme's Gazetteer, I can totally relate to Mrs. Todd. This is my all time favorite short of Stephen's. I do believe that the gentleman telling the story took off with Mrs. Todd...GREAT story!

arthurmacarthur said...

How do I contact you, Charles?

Charles R. Rutledge said...

My email address is crrut101@google.com

arthurmacarthur said...

Is that email correct ...tried it ..no dice ...but love to chat..
Thanks, AC

Charles R. Rutledge said...

No, I'm just stupid. It's crrut101@gmail.com

Sorry about that.

JPB said...

I discovered Mrs Todd's shortcut for the first time maybe 20 years ago, and I re-read it regularly. I think often of it. It has a very strange seductive power, maybe because of the extreme simplicity of the plot - what's more common than a shortcut? - and because of King's unmatched storytelling skills, that fits perfectly. The story also reveals very little, leaving the imagination of the reader free... One of my favorite novels, along with the Necklace by Guy de Maupassant (in another style entirely).

Jay said...

Very moving. Just reread it today, 30 summers after what must have been a very cursory skim. Or maybe I'm just closer to Homer's age now.

Anonymous said...

Funny because I too read this back in 85ish and have always remembered it as my very favorite Stephen King writing(also read it while living in Maine and found shortcuts so very important to travel there). Funny thing is I have always remembered the story such that Mrs Todd arrived before she left. Time for a reread.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Glad to see folks feel the same way about the story that I do. One of King's classics.