Constant Reader, there’s nothing I like more than a new book of Stephen King short stories. Ever since I was a little Scoots, I can remember paging through dog-eared copies of Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and the Bachman Books have been tried and true favorites. Classics like The Mist, The Running Man, The Raft, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, and The Jaunt have been read over and over through the years. And more recently, we’ve seen great collections, like Just After Sunset and Everything’s Eventual, both filled with some excellent short stories that were scary, thrilling, and thought-provoking.
And here we have The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, the most recent collection of short work. And the first of these books that I don’t think I’ll buy a copy of my own so I can reread it someday.
Never fear, Constant Reader. There are some really good bits in here. If you are a fan of King and his short stories, this is still a must. But it was the first time when reading one of King’s collections that I kept putting it aside, and some of the stories I really struggled to get through.
But let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there’s lots of it here.
First of all, I loved how King wrote a brief introduction to each story, explaining what influenced him and how and when he wrote the story. And each story was dedicated to someone from a different part of his life, which I thought was lovely.
Some of the stories — Premium Harmony, Morality, Bad Little Kid — were a bit rough to get through. You knew at the start of the story that it wasn’t going to end well for these characters, and it wasn’t necessarily pleasant to read about how they ended up.
But there were some gems here, and I’d rather focus on those.
The Bone Church is a poem of sorts, King calls it a “dramatic monologue”, and it was scary and suspenseful. About a search for a mystical elephant burial ground in some un-named country gone wrong, with a drunk (and possible demonic) narrator, this is a quick, tense read.
Herman Wouk is Still Alive was classic King — everyday people going about their lives in Maine, unaware that a tragedy is about to occur. A van filled with women and children crashes and explodes on the Maine roadside, just where two aging poets are sharing a picnic and thinking about the passage of time. This one really stuck with me, particularly the part when Brenda — an out-of-work single mom — wonders about what kind of future her illegitimate children will have.
The seven kids will beget seventeen, and the seventeen will beget seventy, and the seventy will beget two hundred. She can see a ragged fool’s parade marching into the future…
Obits was much more fun, but in a ghastly way. Young Michael Anderson is a writer for a TMZ/Perez Hilton type website, and he writes nasty celebrity Obituaries. And one day he discovers that maybe he might have the ability to do more than just write obituaries AFTER the fact…and that maybe his writing could potentially CAUSE a death to occur. What does a normal guy do with a power like that, and how does it not drive him mad?
My favorite story was the heartbreaking Under the Weather. Brad is an advertising executive, known for his creativity and business acumen. Brad’s wife is sick, and he suddenly finds that he can no longer see the difference between reality and the better, more creative version that he’s created for himself.
The rest of the stories are a mixed bag. Some are quite strong — UR, Summer Thunder, Batman and Robin Have an Altercation — and worth a read. Some are more fluff and filler, and I’ll forget about them as soon as I bring the book back to the library. But I always appreciate Uncle Stevie’s efforts and will continue, as always, to be a Constant Reader.