One of the most popular and prolific writers of modern times, Stephen King is back with a new novella: Stationary Bike. In usual King style, the aptly titled story is a tale about the mundane becoming extraordinary. Richard Sifkitz, a commercial artist, has been putting off that yearly physical for more than a year; in fact, it’s been several years. When he finally breaks down and goes to the doctor, he gets some potentially bad news. His weight isn’t so good and his cholesterol isn’t either, but Sifkitz has been blessed with a pretty good metabolism. This is what saves him for now, but in the next decade he could have a potentially deadly situation considering the aforementioned weight and cholesterol.
This is the inciting incident that compels Sifkitz, like a lot of people reaching their late thirties, to get healthy. So what does he do? Well he isn’t up all night watching infomercials for Suzanne Somer’s Thighmaster or Richard Simmons Sweatin’ To The Oldies. Heck, Sifkitz isn’t even counting calories or even manipulating his carbohydrates in an Atkins-like fashion. No, he simply lays off the fast food and buys a stationary bike. Ahh, the beloved stationary bike that usually becomes a clothes rack. But not in this case. Sifkitz actually starts off with a moderate program and sticks with it. Yes, sticks with it. I know, doesn’t sound like a typical Stephen King story. But things get very interesting, very fast.
Boredom quickly sets in for Sifkitz, and he decides to put his talents to use by painting a mural on the wall the bike was facing. This is where the story delves into King’s domain. This painting is more than it seems, lulling Sifkitz into another world – or, more accurately, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
Clocking in at roughly an hour and a half, Stationary Bike is the perfect length, roughly the same as an average movie, making it a quick easy listen. Ron McLarty’s excellent performance was excellent adds depth and tension to what might otherwise seem like a story about a couch potato just getting into shape. But it is more, especially King’s keen observations about life, artistic expression (or frustration), and how to balance the excesses with the necessities. Overall, Stationary Bike is a very entertaining story. Perhaps King should alternate more of these shorter novellas with his thousand-page epics.