Much like the situation facing siblings Cal and Becky DeMuth in its plot, the story “In the Tall Grass” seemed to sneak up on people. The announcement of its existence (as part of Esquire magazine’s renewed emphasis on “men’s fiction”) came with little of the fanfare that accompanies most projects bearing the name Stephen King (not to mention that of his growing-rapidly-in-reputation-and-fanbase son, Joe Hill). One minute you’re minding your own business, the next you’re cursing yourself for not renewing your subscription while you search the cluttered shelves at Books-A-Million looking for a copy.
But it has arrived, at least in part (the concluding half will arrive in the magazine’s August issue) and so far it is quite good.
The DeMuth kids are called the “Irish twins” by their parents because, even at 19 months apart, they seem to share the uncanny closeness of actual twins. They finish each other’s sentences. They rarely make decisions without the input of the other. They are inseparable. Or so they thought.
They are on a cross-country drive to San Diego, where Becky is moving in with relatives to tend to the bun in her oven. Becky is unmarried and the father turned out to be “a fool,” so once again she leans on her brother to get her to her next stop in life. But somewhere in rural Kansas, in a field of unseasonably (and unreasonably) tall grass, a voice calls out to them to stop. To help. Stop they do, and they try to help, but within minutes they find that being close to one another – a condition that’s been a given their whole life – is suddenly physically impossible.
King and Hill capture the fragility of everyday life in this extraordinary situation – the way things can go from being perfectly normal to irreversibly altered in the snap of a finger. It’s a helpless feeling for the DeMuths, and for the reader as well. Like them, we’ve waded into the tall grass, and the place we want to be is close, but not nearly close enough. At least in our case, rescue (in the form of Part 2) is getting closer. For the DeMuths, and the little boy and his mother who called out to them, sanctuary is slipping farther and farther away.