A Review of Stephen King’s “Afterlife”
Andrew Parker - June 6, 2023

Afterlife is a short story penned by the horror-writer Stephan King for the literary magazine Tin House for its June 2013 edition. The story was reintroduced in King’s 2015 short story collection ‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’, where he revealed that the idea of the story came from his own musings on morality as he navigated life. Exploring the options of an afterlife, in this story, King settles for a twisted form of resurrection where the decision rests with each specific individual. The decision to ‘move on’ or remain stuck in a sick, never ending loop.

William Andrews dies of cancer and moves on to the realm of the dead where he meets the spiritual caseworker called Isaac Harris, who was a factory owner when he was alive whose missteps killed many of his workers in a factory fire. He has been sentenced to purgatory in his afterlife and has yet to accept full responsibility for his actions. It is revealed that William Andrews has died multiple times and every time he is given the option to either ‘move on’ or restart his life again, and every time, he chooses to restart his life. Harris warns him that his life will be exactly the same with absolutely no differences. Yet, Andrews convinces himself that he will be able to right his wrongs and live a better life than before and chooses the door which leads him back to his life again. Just a few pages after his death, William Andrews is born again in 1956, and his mother remarks again at the ‘limitless possibilities’ which await him, although the readers know that nothing new awaits him and he will be stuck in this loop forever.

The fact that the main character is unable to face the unknown allows him to willingly subject himself to a sick form of punishment of his own choosing and free will. This story certainly makes the reader wonder whether such permanent decisions should be left in the hands of creatures as selfish and weak as humans.

You may also like