Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Photo: First Edition front cover, from the book's Wikipedia page.

Quick note: I'm just the 27th to publish a review of this book on Goodreads, as of 10.10.2015.  Though I'm sure someone will have typed one up and posted it before I finish mine.  Mine, as you know, are long.

Very good short story collection, but then again they all are.  (Except maybe Everything's Eventual, which I dimly remember had more misses than hits for me.)  This one has more hits than misses--many, many more--and even the misses miss in just minor ways for me.  My biggest beef with them is that they were maybe insignificant to me.  They might not be to you.  To each his own.

The book begins with a disclaimer that most of the stories have, of course, been previously published.  There's some claptrap about how a story is never finished, but he's got to write something there, I guess.  The fact is, these stories have been published before, and only a couple have been extensively revised, and he's publishing them now because that's the cool thing about short stories: you get paid for them once, and then if you're a name that anyone cares about, you can collect them in a book and get paid for them again.  Much more this time for King, I assure you.  I wonder if he's still getting $10M per book, if he ever was.

In front of each story is a short comment about the genesis of each.  Entertainment Weekly said these were reason enough to read the book.  These are usually distracting for me, so I read them all at once, before I read any of the stories, and then I started reading the stories the next day.  Again, to each his own.  But he's written better intros than any of these.  (My fave's probably the one with The Bachman Books.)

Anyway, some quick thoughts about some (stop now if you don't want to know anything about a few of the stories):

"Mile 81" reads well, as all his stuff does.  You're maybe sick of reading the phrase "compulsively readable" in my reviews of King's stuff by now, but I'll continue typing it as long as it stays true.  Such is the case with this story, except that it's one of my "insignificant" ones in this book, which is not necessarily a terrible thing.  Who doesn't need a good, irrelevant story?  But I read this book (impulsively and compulsively) when I perhaps should have been doing something else, so I felt badly when I felt that tinge of "So what?"  In this one, an alien vehicle kills some better drawn-out characters than usual for this kind of story, and then flies away.  And that's what happens at creepy and abandoned rest areas.  A better story could be made of this.

"Premium Harmony" is a very effective story about a guy and his wife (who very much don't get along), and a dog that prefers her over him.  This one's very memorable and very well-written, and could actually happen.  Good voice and good ending--not always a King strong-suit.  I read this one before somewhere.  Maybe in DetailsAtlantic Monthly?  There's usually a Previously Published In... page, but not this time.

"Batman and Robin..." is okay, a good story that passes the time.  Won't stick in my noggin' but it may in yours.

"The Dune" is a very good story about a judge who sees names in a sand dune, and when he does, that person drops dead soon.  Clever little ending, reminiscent of King's Night Shift days.

"Bad Little Kid" was okay.  The kid in question is sort of representative of all evil, in a ghostly kind of way.  Stands in for Death itself, too.  This is actually a common theme in this collection.

"A Death" is an extremely successful little story that'll leave you guessing until the end.  Written in a different style and tone for King, and he pulls it off.  Very good detail, and it'll make you question your belief system--even if you know how far people will go to deny, and to save their own skin, even from themselves.  I've seen way too much of that, and I was still surprised.  Created a long conversation between myself and my better half.  I read this one somewhere before, and was still impressed when I re-read it again here.  Very memorable.

"Morality" is an effective, nasty long story.  Sort of like a more shrill take on Indecent Proposal.  I read this, and "Blockade Billy," in the limited-release book that had just those two stories, and something originally written for his son, if I remember right.  Anyway, this one says something about the human condition, though I'm not sure what.  Maybe that you can't run away from your own guilt, but he's done that better elsewhere.  What was that short story about the farmer who killed his wife and tried to run away from it but kept seeing and hearing the rats?

"Afterlife" was entertaining and okay.  Probably not memorable for me.

"Ur" was also good, and a welcome back to the men in yellow coats and a bit of the Tower.  Good.  No surprises.  One of the longest in here.

I'd read "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" somewhere before and just skimmed it here.  Very good story.  A bit of a head-scratcher about life, about depression, about poverty.  About how some find peace and some don't.  Memorable.

"Under the Weather" is probably the most effective and memorable for me.  What does one do when someone you've placed your heart and soul to dies?  So effective because I can imagine this actually happening, in exactly the way that it does here.  And I think you will, too.

For "Blockade Billy," see "Morality" comment.  This is a good story that maybe baseball fans--especially those who like the game from the early 1900s like I do--will better appreciate.

"Mister Yummy" is a bittersweet take on the same themes as the bad kid story.  This one worked better for me, but again it's about getting old and dying, and about what might come next.  There's a lot of that in this collection.

"The Little Green God of Agony" didn't work for me.  Not a bad story, exactly.  A shoulder-shrugger.

"That Bus Is Another World" could have been titled "Kitty Genovese."  I liked it's point more than I liked the story, and it doesn't go with King's intro for it at all.

"Obits" worked for me, but the love-interest tie-in didn't, and it sort of peters out at the end.  Good idea; bad follow-through.  Okay story.

"Drunken Fireworks" was the clunker of the collection for me.  Skip it.

"Summer Thunder" is the bummer of the collection, but still a very good story and very memorable, though the ending is never in doubt, and there really wasn't any other ending King could've given it.  Because of all this, it's a huge victory that this story is still so readable and memorable and sad.  It tries for a strong human will ending that was just more sad for me, though it may register a little better for you.

All in all, this is a great short story collection that shows some of King's best writing in years.  Worth your money and time.  Get it.

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