Review of Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Bazaar of Bad Dreams is pretty much what it sounds like. A bazaar is a market, selling various and sundry items. Well, that is what the book is, except those items are nightmares, tales of terror, fear and woe. King says as much in his letter to the 'Constant Reader', of which I am one. I love those little notes to his readers, his fans. It shows that even after all this time, and all the money he has made, we are still important to him, even if he never knows any of our names. Without us, he may still write stories, but they would not be shared. And what good is a good story if you can't share it with someone? Even if those stories tend to have teeth...
The book is comprised of 20 different tales. The shortest is a free verse poem of only four pages, and the longest is 58 pages. I will give a brief overview of each story, and my thoughts, but first, I would like to take a look at the collection as a whole.
King says that some of these were written many years ago, and never published, while others are fresher fare. Having said that, I did notice a few persistent themes that reappeared in a number of the stories; maybe by coincidence, and then again, maybe not. The first is dogs. Now, we all know King wrote Cujo about a rabid dog, but the dogs in these stories seem to be imbued with an almost human-like intelligence. I can't say for sure, but I feel this is due to his own dog, Molly (The Thing of Evil, as he likes to refer to her). I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Another thing I noticed about this selection of wares, as he referred to them, is that the main characters tend to be older. When King started, he wrote about high school kids (Carrie) or younger adults. A good number of these stories involve characters that would be at home in a retirement home. The old adage says, write what you know, and while I know King isn't hidden away in some nursing home somewhere, he is 68 years old as I write this. I have noticed that as he has aged, his characters have, too. It's like his stories and characters are growing with him, aging with him.
Now that I have indulged myself a bit, let's get into this. I will start from the beginning.
This story is one of the longer ones, running at 44 pages long. In the note before the story, he says he got the idea when he was 19, but never ran with it until much later. Mile 81 was originally published as an e-book in September of 2011.
Have you ever driven by an abandoned little stretch of highway? An old rest stop, or dilapidated gas station? That is kind of what this story is about; the inspiration for it, anyway. Only Stephen King could see such a thing, and come up with the story that he did. I see something like that, and I think, creepy, horror movie type setting, sure, but this story does not go in the direction that you would think.
This story is classic King horror! I loved it! It was compelling, the characters were believable, and the story sucked you in. Short stories are great, if you can grab the reader right away, because there is no time to slowly draw you in. It has to pull you by the lapels, and yank you right along, and this story does that.
This is a shorter one, coming in at only 11 pages. Premium Harmony was originally published in The New Yorker magazine in November of 2009. The setting of Castle Rock is a familiar one for any King fan. His stories have ventured here time and time again, and it looks as if the town wasn't quite done with him, not yet, anyway.
The story is dark, with an unsettling black humor that is almost a King trademark. But, it is also sad, and a little heart-wrenching. You feel for the characters, which is a hard thing to achieve in only 11 pages. This is the first story in the collection to feature a dog with almost human-like intelligence. This time, it's a Jack Russell named Biznezz.
Batman And Robin Have an Altercation
No, this story is not about Batman and Robin, not really, anyway. This is another of the shorter stories, only 13 pages this time. It packs a lot into those 13 pages, though. Batman and Robin Have an Altercation was originally published in Harper's Magazine (not to be confused with Harper's Bazaar, which would be rather ironic) in September of 2012.
The story is about a middle aged man and his Alzheimer's affected father. I hate this disease, and it is great to see King treat it with such kindness and understanding. The story follows the pair on their usual trip out to eat, but takes a turn for the worst. The interaction between father and son is what drives the story, more than anything else. It is a very intense, character driven story, which is amazing considering that it's so short. I got to the end, and wanted more.
The Dune is 13 pages and an amazing story! This was one of my favorites. It was originally published the Fall 2011 issue of Granta (a UK literary magazine).
The story is about a retired Florida Supreme Court judge, and a little, unnamed island on the Gulf Coast, somewhere near Sarasota. Which, incidentally, is near where King has a home of his own. The tale is incredibly compelling, and has all the fantasy and horror you would expect from Stephen King.
Bad Little Kid
Bad Little Kid was originally released in e-book form in March of 2014, in Europe, in German and French, and this is the first time it has been published in English. The story has already been optioned for a feature length movie, by Laurent Bouzereau, who has previously done a documentary about Stephen King movies. No other information regarding this is available, so no news on when, or if, the movie will be made. Coming in at 37 pages, the film would have to expand a bit on the events and the story, to fill a whole, feature-length movie.
Bad Little Kid is about what you would expect it to be about, a bad, little kid, but it's more than that. It's a supernatural tale, as only King can craft it. A man on death row, who refused to say a single word until shortly before his execution, finally decides to tell his tale to the public defender who has stood by him, and fought for him. Unfortunately, some tales are better left unsaid. This may be one of them. I really do hope that they make this into a movie, and I hope that they hold true to the story. I think it would make an amazing movie.
Since there has already been a little death in some of the previous stories, the title of this one is interesting. The story is a short one, coming in at 14 pages, and as I was reading this one, I swore I had read it before. A Death was first published in The New Yorker magazine in March of 2015, and that may have been where I read it.
It's a story set in the Old West, and involves the suspicions, prejudices, and beliefs of the time, but with a significant twist. Your own opinions are put to the test, and things are never what they seem. This story is interesting, as their is no supernatural element to it at all. Not unusual for King, but still interesting.
The Bone Church
This is one of the shortest stories in the whole book, but don't discount it because of that. Actually, it isn't really a story, as one would think of a story. It's a free verse poem that tells a story. The Bone Church was originally published in Playboy magazine in November of 2009.
The tale is the poetic ramblings of a drunk man, but how much can you trust what a drunk man says? It's hard to say. The story is fantastic, and who knows, he may be telling the truth. It's left to the listener/reader to decide.
This story is a little longer than some, and comes in at 28 pages, and it's a fast read, mostly because it is an amazing piece of writing. This is one of my other favorites in the book. Morality was originally published in Esquire magazine in July 2009, and then included as a bonus story along with the novella Blockade Billy in Spring of 2010.
What is the story about? The title tells all. It's about morality. What would you do for money? It's kind of like a Stephen King version of Indecent Proposal. It's a dark tale to be sure. I have said time and time again, that horror often has a moral element to it, and this story is the very definition of that.
A short story, to be sure. 12 pages short, to be exact. Afterlife was originally published in issue #56 of Tin House Magazine in June of 2013. For fans of King, they will recognize a certain town mentioned. Hemingford, Nebraska is familiar, if you are a fan of The Stand. This story does not have anything to do with that, though.
Afterlife is about, well, the afterlife. We have all pondered what lays beyond this world, once we take our final breath, and the long sleep of death takes over. Some believe in heaven and hell, others believe in reincarnation, but no one really knows for sure. This story proposes and interesting idea. One that I hope does not lay in store for us at the end.
UR is the longest story in the collection, and at 58 pages, is more of a novella than a short story. It was originally released as an e-book in early 2009, for the Amazon Kindle, exclusively. The following year, an audio book version was released. I purchased the audio book, and loved it. It was read by Holter Graham, who got his start in acting in Maximum Overdrive, which was based on the King story, Trucks, and has narrated other King works.
This is an interesting story. Even how it came to be is interesting. King was approached to write something for the Kindle, and he initially refused, since he isn't one to write something on demand for anyone else, but then, an idea came to him, and what results is UR.
The story has connections to the Dark Tower, and any King fan will pick up on that pretty quick. Our main character is a professor. He is what you would call 'old school', and has a love for books, but, after some incidents in his life, he decides to give modern technology a try, and orders a Kindle. In the early days, Kindles came in one color...white. However, when his arrives, it's bright pink. What other differences are there? Read the story and find out for yourself. Download it on your Kindle...what could go wrong?
Herman Wouk Is Still Alive
This story was originally published in The Atlantic magazine in May of 2011. For those of you who are wondering who Herman Wouk is, he's the author of The Cain Mutiny, among other stories. And, yes, he is very much alive, and still writing, even though he is approaching his 101st birthday! But, this story isn't about him.
So, what is it about? It's about the fates of two groups of people who's lives happen to intersect at one point in their lives. One group is comprised of two women who's lives have not gone the way they had hoped, and their gaggle of kids, and the other group is a pair of elderly poets, enjoying a nice picnic by the side of the road. How and why their lives intersect is something I think should be read for itself. The story is incredibly moving, and powerful.
Under The Weather
This story has appeared in two collections, first, in the paperback version of Full Dark, No Stars, which was published in 2010, and now here. Here again, is a story of an older couple, along with a dog. Fans of King's work will notice the mention of "Nozzy", which is in reference to the fictional Nozz-a-la soda that has popped up in several King works, including The Dark Tower series and Kingdom Hospital. They even have a website, which is kind of creepy.
Brad and Ellen are an older, married couple who have a lovely dog, named Lady. Brad wakes from a nightmare, but is quiet not to wake his wife, who has been under the weather, as of late. I won't give away any more of the story that that. This one bugged me. It was disturbing, and it has stuck with me. I can't really say why. Some stories just do that. They get in your head, and just hang out there, like a fly that's inside your head instead of buzzing around it. It's less annoying than that, but you get the idea.
This is one of the other novellas in this collection, and comes in at 38 pages. Blockade Billy was originally published on it's own in 2010, though the version that appears here has been slightly revised.
The story is about baseball. Stephen King is a long time fan of the game, and it's no surprise that he would write a story about the sport. He has written other works about the game, including the story, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which really wasn't about baseball, but a girl's love of her favorite player. He also wrote the nonfiction book,Faithful, with Stewart O'Nan about his favorite team, The Red Sox, and the 2004 season, in which they won the World Series.
William "Blockade Billy" Blakely is a fictional character who, in the story, had a brief stint with New Jersey Titans during the 1957 season. The story is full of colorful language that was true to the old days of baseball. The story has an interesting concept. It's written as if King is being told the story by the long retired third base coach, and this isn't the first time King has been a character in his own story. It's a tale of a down-on-their-luck baseball team, in desperate need of a catcher. Who they get is a young, skinny farmboy by the name of William Blakely. At first, he seems like he will be another victim of the hardness of 50's baseball, but proves otherwise. He isn't what he appears to be...in more ways than one. It's a good story, though, I will admit, I love baseball, so I am a bit biased.
Odd name for a title, to be sure. And, it's an odd story as well. It's about AIDS and being gay in the 80's, but it's not. It's about getting old, but it's not. I know that I am confusing you, but the story is really so short, that I don't want to give away too much. This is a new story, in that this is the first time it has been published. Most of the stories up till now, have appeared somewhere else.
The story follows a pair of friends in a retirement home. Dave and Ollie are friends, and Ollie has something he wants to tell Dave. Ollie is gay, and recounts his time in the 80's, already middle aged by that point, and what life was like for him back then. The rest, I will leave for you to read yourself. It's a good, little story. It is interesting, and in a way, familiar, but not in a bad way.
Tommy is a 4 page, free verse poem, so there is little I can say about it. It is part story, part sad song, part eulogy. Looking at the introduction King wrote before it, combined with the voice of the poem, and the cryptic dedication "For D.F.", I feel that King wrote this about someone he knew, probably someone from his younger college days. That is really all I can say about it. It's a sad story, and it tore at my heart a little, more so when I think that he actually wrote it about someone he knew. I could feel a bit of that pain come through.
The Little Green God of Agony Web Comic
The Little Green God of Agony
The Little Green God of Agony was first published in the anthology, A Book of Horrors, in 2011. It is also available as a web horror comic on stephenking.com. I imagine this was a cathartic piece for King to write. After his accident in 1999, when he was hit by a van, I imagine the pain and agony of physical therapy was intense. Just getting back to some semblance of normal, just managing the pain to get through the day, must have been excruciating. That is what this story is about, pain and agony.
When we have been in pain, we have all wished we could just pull the pain right out of us, and move on. Unfortunately for most of us, recovering from a horrific injury takes a lot of work, and involves a lot of pain. Sometimes that pain feels altogether unholy. King took that idea and ran with it in a way that only he can do. It seems as if he drew from his own experience and used it as fuel for this story. The tale is classic King, and I loved it.
That Bus Is Another World
That Bus Is Another World was originally published in the August of 2014 edition of Esquire magazine. It's another of the shorter stories, and is only 8 pages long. It's like when you take a peak into the windows of your fellow travelers while waiting at a light. It's a brief glimpse.
I loved this story because I have actually thought this while looking in on the cars beside me. I wonder about their lives, who they are, what they do, and that sort of thing. This story is about that, in a very Stephen King way, of course. Wilson, our main character, has headed from Alabama, to bustling New York City for business, and of course, gets stuck in traffic. It doesn't sound like much of a story, but only King could make getting stuck in traffic sound interesting.
Obits is another new story that is published for the first time in this collection. In the forward, King says he was inspired by an old horror movie called, I Bury The Living, which I admit, I have not seen, but now I want to.
Mike Anderson has dreams of being a journalist, but after numerous rejections, he is debating whether he will ever reach his dreams. He is so discouraged, he actually considers applying for a job in advertising, which he calls "anti-news". Then he sees a story of a celeb's death, and as a lark, he sends in a snarky obituary, and in turn, lands a job with a sleazy celebrity online magazine (Think TMZ only worse). But, this story has a dark, supernatural twist, because, well, it's Stephen King.
The title of this story is pretty self explanatory. Drinking and fireworks don't mix. Drunken Fireworks came out as an audiobook in 2015, and is appearing in this collection for the first time in print. The setting is a familiar place in the King universe, Castle County, Maine, and a familiar King character, Police Chief Andrew Clutterbuck, makes an appearance.
A formerly poor family, a mother and her son, have come into some money through several strokes of luck, and have proceeded to drink themselves through as much of the money as they can manage. Not a good thing, to be sure. One summer, they celebrate the Fourth of July with some sparklers and a few noise making fireworks, and for some reason, this sparks an all out war with the rich, out of towners across the lake. What ensues is actually kind of funny, in a dark way. It's a similar feeling story to the story Gordy Lachance tells his friends in the short story, The Body, which went on to be made into the movie, Stand By Me. The story is about a pie eating contest that goes horribly wrong. These stories are similar in style, as if King was channeling Gordy to write this. But of course, Gordy is King, and King is Gordy.
What Stephen King collection would be complete without a story about the end of the world? He has delved into this topic several times, including the not-even-close-to-a-short-story, The Stand. This story is different from that. The story is only 15 pages, for one thing. For another, the method of ruin for humanity is different, and even more cataclysmic. Summer Thunder was originally published in 2013, in Turn Down The Lights, which is an anthology book to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cemetery Dance Magazine, of which Stephen King has a close relationship with.
Nuclear war has destroyed everything, animals are dying off, people have died, and who knows how many are left, or how long they have. We find Peter Robinson, and a dog he has named Gandalf, in a cabin in the woods. The only other person who seems to be anywhere around is an elderly man, named Timlin. The story is very short, and only gives us a glimpse into this post apocalyptic world of nuclear fallout. It's enough to scare me a great deal.