Not that the universe of Stephen King works doesn’t have a variety of oddities in it already, but to the reader who is not privvy to much in the way of private, uncollected, or unpublished works, The Plant is a really singular story, simply because it’s not finished. Or at least not in any way that’s immediately available to me.
Stephen King is an early adopter of ebooks, or digital books, I guess, in this case. As I remember, he wrote a novella strictly for Kindle, too, when that was still pretty new — but that will come later. This one and Riding The Bullet were both released online in 2000 — “internet books”, or whatever we were calling them at the time, but not Kindle books and perhaps not even the more generic ebooks. Just books on the internet. I’m not sure of the exact month and day of the publications (or, in the case of The Plant, when it began to be published) but I do know they’re both from the same year and I was curious about The Plant, which I hadn’t checked out before, so you’re getting this one first.
Basically, the deal was that King would release the book in installments on his own website, and readers would pay using just the honor system. He would continue writing and releasing new installments as long as a certain percentage of downloaders paid — 75%, according to Wikipedia. This threshold did not hold, and eventually, King suspended the project. Without actually finishing.
Now, reading it made me wonder whether he was really writing this story or just releasing some previously unreleased work in installments because it reads much more like Early King than 2000s King. That’s not a criticism, you understand. But I’ve been working through his library back to back for a while now, and it’s given me some perspective to potentially notice things I might not see otherwise. The writing style on this reminds me a lot of some of the stories in the early short story collections.
When I looked it up, I saw that, in fact, King had written parts of a story by this name and sent them out as chapbooks to friends at Christmastime in the early-to-mid ’80s. I’m sure he revised or added to or altered the story before releasing parts online, but that does explain why it feels so much like Early King. It also makes me wonder if there’s an ending somewhere — perhaps one that was only released to friends? Or maybe even one that’s available someplace on the web, to a person willing to hunt and hit the right kinds of places.
That person is not me, at least not now. I simply downloaded two PDFs, parts 1-3 and parts 4-6, off of Stephen King’s website. I would really like to know how it ends, but right now, I’m trying to do a project about the published works of Stephen King that we all have access to, and even if an ending for The Plant exists somewhere, it’s certainly not immediately accessible to me, and I assume not to a lot of other people either. And for all I know, it doesn’t exist at all. That seems weird, but maybe?
Anyway, it’s probably not my favorite Stephen King story I’ve ever read, but it’s fun, and if you can keep yourself from agonizing over the missing ending, it’s worth a read. I don’t think it will be that big a problem for most readers — if you tell yourself that the ending you get is the end, and that the fate of the characters going forward is ambiguous, it works pretty well as-is, I think. It’s only because I know this wasn’t originally meant to be the end that it bothers me — the idea grew on me, you might say. Like an out-of-control plant. But maybe you can use that ambiguous ending idea like a pair of pruning shears.
I’m not sure I’d call this particular story required reading, but I feel like it’s worth it if you have the time to spare and you’re not doing anything else. The funny thing is, I think that the idea King had was maybe just a bit ahead of its time? I don’t know, there seem to be a lot of people making money for doing some creative thing they have a passion for by collecting small amounts from loyal fans and followers. They’re using platforms like Patreon or Ko-Fi or whatever, but isn’t the idea basically the same? Chip in a few bucks and I’ll keep producing this thing that entertains you? I don’t know, I feel like if he’d tried it 15 or so years later, the outcome might have been different.