Review: “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” Stephen King

Pros: Fantastic selection of stories
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of Stephen King’s short stories, was a lot of fun to read! I also enjoyed his introductory discussion on writing short stories. These tales cover a wide array of genres and styles, making each story new and interesting. King’s take on horror straddles the divide between absurdity and fear. Each story comes with an intro sharing a few extra details on each story, and they’re fun to read, not in the least bit boring. I’m not going to go over every story–this is a reasonably long book–but I’ll mention a few that caught my eye for one reason or another. These aren’t even necessarily my favorite tales–just ones that left me with something to say.

Mile 81 is a silly-but-fun horror tale of a dangerous car that lays in wait for victims. My favorite quote of the book arises from this story:

…[H]is heart filled with envy and jealousy–a vile brew, but strangely tasty.

That quote could be used to describe this book: it’s filled with all sorts of vile emotions and events, but the combination of them is strangely tasty. One of the things King does so well is to foreshadow or foretell events which then happen almost immediately afterward. It’s a nifty narrative device that briefly imbues the reader with that sense of witnessing an inevitable tragedy.

Morality introduces us to a game played by a dying Reverend. He wants to know more about what would happen if someone were to sin simply for the sake of sinning, and his sin is to offer money to his caretaker to get her to commit violence. We watch as Chad and Nora’s relationship slowly devolves, while the Reverend sits back, watches, and smiles.

Ur uses the Kindle itself as a plot device–and it does it surprisingly well. An ‘old school’ teacher still prefers to read actual printed books. His girlfriend is a little more up with the times. After they break up he orders a Kindle as a matter of spite. He doesn’t notice that it arrives in one day instead of two and, unlike other Kindles, is pink rather than white. After a short while he discovers a set of experimental ‘Ur’ functions. He can download books from parallel universes. For instance, there’s a world where Hemingway lived longer and thus wrote more books.

It appeared that he had stumbled on 10.4 million alternate realities and he was an unpublished loser in all of them.

Everything seems to go well until he discovers that he can view local news before it happens–leading to the question, can he, should he, try to change the future? And if he does, what will the consequences be? The story may use a branded item as a plot device, but I think it does it brilliantly.

Blockade Billy: I love this not because it’s a baseball story with interesting characters. I like it in spite of it being a baseball story. Actually, I love it precisely because the story succeeded in making me feel tension over the playing out of baseball games even though I know virtually nothing about the game, and that’s impressive.

The Little Green God of Agony: A rich man, Andy Newsome, seeks an end to his pain; his physical therapist believes he isn’t going to recover because he gives up too early and too often. So Newsome calls in a huckster of some sort, a man who claims to be able exorcise a ‘little god’ that is causing his pain. This is the only story that felt unfinished to me, that left me flipping pages back to make sure it really was over. I felt it needed to go just a little bit further.

Obits is a neat one. Michael Anderson writes scathing, funny obituaries for his sensationalist online magazine. One day, in a fit of pique, he writes an obit for his still-living boss, who had just denied him a raise. She died. Michael knew it couldn’t be him, but just to ease his mind he wrote another pre-obituary for a very terrible man, someone whom he felt deserved death–only to find out that yes, he really does have that power. He shares the information with precisely one person at work, a woman he has the hots for, and things go down from there. The power is addictive, and everyone has an enemy or rival they’d like to take down. I love the way King likes to put very ordinary people in the hot seat.

Drunken Fireworks is my favorite story in this anthology. No horror really; no paranormal. Just a whole lot of amazing characters. A couple of redneck hicks end up in an unexpected fireworks war with the rich people who own the mansion across the river. Not pranking or damage–just setting off fireworks once a year down on the water. The Massimos, who summer in the mansion, always seem just one level above what Alden and his mother can come up with. Still, they never stop trying. Even though we never see the Massimos on screen except in the far background, the family takes on a great deal of personality (as do Alden and his mother). It’s easy to see how a friendly little ‘war’ could turn into something… a little wild. I laughed at this one–it’s just plain fun, written so well that I’d swear I could see and hear the characters.

Summer Thunder is a brief story about the world after the nuclear bombs are dropped. It’s short and lovely, and brought tears to my eyes.

 

I’m grateful an old friend pointed out that this anthology was out there; I’ve had a wonderful time catching up on my Stephen King reading!

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