Over the years, I've come to admire Stephen King more and more, both for his prolific output and the amazing quality of his work. I've especially enjoyed his longer novels, such as 11.22.63, marvelling at how he maintains tension and interest for 700+ pages. I wasn't sure, therefore, what I'd think of King's short stories, although I suspect I could read his grocery list and find it enthralling!
I needn't have worried - I loved Full Dark, No Stars, a great collection and one that inspired me to try his latest offering, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, published in November 2015. It's a collection of eighteen short stories and two poems. (Poetry isn't my thing - I started both poems and gave up, so perhaps I overstated my case when it comes to King's grocery list!)
It's worth noting that not all the stories are new; some, such as Blockade Billy, have been published before, which may disappoint diehard fans expecting a completely fresh experience. They were all new to me, however, so no complaints here!
I love how King prefaces each story with an introduction, often revealing where he got his inspiration. As an author myself, it's fascinating to explore another wordsmith's process for transferring an idea from brain to page. Mile 81, for example, is a reworking of a story King wrote nearly forty years ago, resulting from his dislike of a particularly lonely stretch of road in Maine, familiar from his university days. For Batman and Robin Have an Altercation, he drew on a memory of a near-miss accident at a Sarasota intersection. The best introduction, however, is the one to the book itself. Here's a snippet from what King has to say:
'Here, sit down beside me. And do come a little closer, I don't bite.
Except.... we've known each other for a very long time, and I suspect you know that's not entirely true.'
An impressive collection of wonderful quality
So what can the reader expect from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams? Some of the stories, like Mile 81 and Bad Little Kid, are quintessentially Stephen King - a demonic flesh-eating car reminiscent of his novel Christine in the first, an evil child in the second. Others, like The Little Green God of Agony, are more personal; in King's own words, a search for closure. The story resulted from the horrific traffic accident he suffered in 1999 that resulted in years of physiotherapy and learning to walk again. In keeping with the personal theme, his preface to Afterlife, an examination of what might come after death, King admits to an increasing interest in the subject as he grows older (he's now 68). The story reflects his preoccupation but delivered with a humorous touch. What awaits Bill Andrews after his demise is not a date with St Peter but with a man in high-waisted trousers, who's none too pleased to see him...
My favourite is, I think, Ur, although it's a tough choice! Ur deals with, of all things, a supernatural Kindle, which proves that a good author can weave a tale out of just about anything. Talking of which, the preface to Mr Yummy intrigued me. I can't imagine telling Stephen King he wouldn't have anything new to say about AIDS! A friend of his did just that, with King, of course, proving him wrong with his wonderful story of a elderly gay man approaching his death in a care home.
What else gets the King touch? Marriage, in Premium Harmony, Under the Weather and Morality; human stupidity in Drunken Fireworks; and a post-apocalyptic world in Summer Thunder, a moving tale of a man and his dog that incorporates King's love of motorcycles. Blockade Billy is centred around baseball, but with a dark twist. I loved The Dune, a tale of supernatural writing and a study of a deeply unpleasant man. Stephen says the story has one of his favourite endings and I agree; it's a cracker! Simple, inevitable, and highly effective.
In short, there's something here for every King fan, whether old or new. This is an impressive collection of wonderful quality from a writer whose talent, after forty years, has been honed to a razor's edge.
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