Herman Wouk is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Caine Mutiny, War and Remembrance (a thousand-page epic about World War II), and several other books. He’s also 96 years old, and is still writing. His most recent book, The Language God Talks, a meditation on his fascination with science and his Jewish faith, was released last year…and he’s already working on a follow-up.
At his venerable age, Wouk has become not only an author, but also a subject. Recently, the horror writer Stephen King lost a bet with his son, Joe Hill, also an author. King’s penalty: Hill would come up with a title, and King would have to write a story to go with it. The title Hill offered was “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive.”
King’s short story follows two cars full of people which, we know from the outset, will be killed in a collision. For the reader, this knowledge looms over the whole story, making every action and every line spoken seem that much more meaningful, and that much more horrible. The characters in both cars are reading an article about Wouk and, as the story moves, they wonder and muse about what it’d be like to live that long and still be able to ask questions about God and physics and not run out of stories.
In some ways, this story is a departure from King’s oeuvre. In another way, death is the perfect monster for a Stephen King story–unpredictable, nefarious, and with no scruples or boundaries.