Book Review: “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” by Stephen King

51xcUEzbz7L._AC_US160_The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King is a collection of 20 short stories, each prefaced with an explanation of King’s inspiration for that story. I will not cover all 20 stories in this review. Spoiler alert.

The book begins with a delightful Author’s Note of which the last sentence is: “Something else I want you to know: how glad I am, Constant Reader, that we’re both still here. Cool, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is cool.

 

Mile 81

I read this previously as a standalone short story. King says this is one of his favorites. It certainly has all the markings of his work—pure creepy gore.

A monster disguised as a broken down station wagon in a deserted rest stop, lures drivers off the turnpike and into its human munching clutches. Two small children, Rachel and her little brother Blakie, see the monster car eat their parents and several other adults who stop to “help” the driver of the broken down car. Ten-year-old Pete Simmons, who rode to the rest stop out of boredom earlier in the day on his Huffy bicycle, rides to the kids’ rescue and vanquishes the monster.  

Premium Harmony

King mimicked author Raymond Carver’s writing style when he wrote this strange story. This one left me feeling grimy.

Ray, whose fat wife, Mary, constantly nags him about smoking, waits in the car with their dog while she goes into a convenience to purchase a purple kickball. Mary drops dead while inside. A store employee comes out to the car to ask if Ray is the woman’s husband. Ray leaves the dog in the car and goes into the store where he finds Mary lying dead on the floor.

The interaction between Ray, the customers, the convenience store owner, and the paramedics is morbidly unsympathetic. The fat gawking customers and store employees eat junk food while they wait for the ambulance to arrive. The dog dies in the hot car. Ray smokes Premium Harmony cigarettes while he drives to the hospital with the car windows rolled up and the dead dog in the backseat.

 A Death

This was King’s attempt at writing in a dry laconic language unlike his usual style. The setting— South Dakota around the turn of the 20th century—is not King’s usual style, either. I found myself wondering who the real victim was in this story.

Jim Trusdale is a simpleminded man. He is accused of murdering ten-year-old Rebecca Cline, for her birthday present—a silver dollar. The sheriff arrests Jim then unsuccessfully searches his clothing and body cavities for the silver dollar. In the face of angry townspeople, Jim maintains his innocence. The sheriff begins to believe Jim is indeed innocent because of lack of evidence.

 Jim’s missing hat is a point of contention because it was found under the dead girl’s skirt. The sound of a carpenter carefully building the gallows, during Jim’s trial, is an indication of what will be the outcome of the trial. Jim is found guilty and is hung. His bowels release at the time of death. The mortician preparing Jim’s body for burial finds the silver dollar in Jim’s pants and calls the sheriff.

This turn of evidence leads the sheriff to wonder why he held steadfast to the belief that Jim was innocent as the haunting sound of The Doxology is heard coming from the church.           

Afterlife

This story reminded me of an old episode of The Twilight Zone. It is a compelling take on our need to hold on hard to life.

William Andrews dies of colon cancer after ignoring his doctor’s advice on getting a colonoscopy. Immediately after he dies, he is given two choices. Choose Door #1 and he can live the same life, with the same decisions, over again. Choose Door #2 and his existence is over. Andrews chooses Door #1, which he has done over and over only to be reborn, die of colon cancer, and make the same choice again.      

Summer Thunder

The final story in the book was my favorite because it was post-apocalypse with shades of The Stand. It also reminded me of a Jethro Tull album about an old rocker who kills himself while riding his Triumph motorcycle.    

 The nukes were fired and the world is dead and dying. Peter Robinson’s wife and daughter are dead. He’s alone except for a neighbor two miles down the road, Howard Timlin. A stray dog shows up at Robinson’s front door. He takes in the dog and names him Gandalf. At least now, Robinson has another living being in his home, and it helps ease his grief.

 Robinson and Gandalf visit Timlin often, but the dog and Timlin succumb to radiation fall out leaving Robinson completely alone in a part of Vermont where even the wildlife is almost all dead. Robinson dusts off his Fat Bob Harley motorcycle, fires it up, gets on, and as he shifts the Harley into fifth gear, he takes the dreaded Dead Man’s Curve.  

 The Bone Church

This was written in poetry form and to be frank, it put me off and I didn’t get through it.

Blockade Billy

This was another story I couldn’t get through. It’s written around the way baseball used to be played and in the language of baseball back in the 1950’s. It was not exactly The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

Overall, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a must read if you are Constant Reader—which I am.

Stephen King says, “The reason fantasy fiction remains such a vital and necessary genre is that it lets us talk about such things in a way realistic fiction cannot.” Read Angels & Patriots, a historical fantasy novella by Salina B Baker for only 99 cents. 

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