02 January 2016

A Bizarre Bazaar

In the introduction to his latest short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King has a few things to say about short fiction in general. At one point, after confessing that he is a novelist by nature, he says, "But there is something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will ever see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale laid out on a cheap blanket at a street bazaar."

I think the stories he lays out for sale here are among the best he's written--and a surprising number of them don't even have any otherworldly elements. (After all, his two most recent novels are more mystery/crime tales than supernatural, and one of them--Mr. Mercedes--won the 2015 Edgar Award, presented by Mystery Writers of America.) In this collection, I liked all the stories, creepy or not--but a few are exceptional. Of the 19 stories featured, here are my top ten, in order of appearance:

"Mile 81" -- The opening story features something familiar to all of us--the exit ramp to an interstate rest area--mixed with something terrifying. It's a little Christine-like, and doesn't end with quite the bang of some of the other stories here, but its cast of characters make it one of the best entries in the book.

"Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" -- A heartwarming and totally satisfying tale of a man and his elderly father, and their relationship. One of several stories here that feature nothing otherworldly or horrific.

"The Dune" -- Maybe the most memorable in this collection. King says, in his notes about the story, that it has his favorite ending.

"A Death" -- A heartwrenching story about hardship and justice and bigotry set in the Dakota Territory. This isn't typical Stephen King, but it works.

"Afterlife" -- A lighthearted and carefree look at what happens after we check out. Great fun.

"Ur" -- This, the longest story of the collection, deals with glimpses into the future via news reports accessed on a one-of-a-kind Kindle. It also (like King's novel 11/22/63) features a great love story, and has (for me) the best ending in the book.

"Blockade Billy" -- This borderline-novella was published standalone a few years ago, and it's worth another read. A tribute to King's love of baseball.

"Obit" -- A journalist discovers he can cause deaths by writing about them. Not a new idea, but in King's hands it makes for a great tale. One of those long short-stories that doesn't seem long at all.

"The Little Green God of Agony" -- Here's the Stephen King we've come to know and love. Dark, weird, and terrifying. Nothing lighthearted about this little tale.

"Summer Thunder" -- The story that ends the collection is, appropriately, a story about the End of the World. It could have been--and I expected it to be--creepy and brooding; instead it's a beautiful and uplifting account of an old-timer's love of life.

King also states, in his intro, that "short stories require a kind of artisan's skill." I agree: good ones do. And that skill is in abundance in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. If you've read it, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you haven't . . . get thyself to a bookstore, or an Amazonian shopping-cart. And in case you've not read the Kingster's previous collections of shorts and novellas, here they are:

Night Shift (1978)
Different Seasons (1982)
Skeleton Crew (1985)
Four Past Midnight (1990)
Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993)
Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
Everything's Eventual (2002)
Just After Sunset (2008)
Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

NOTE: Among Four Past Midnight's four novellas are The Body (which was adapted into Stand By Me) and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (which became The Shawshank Redemption).

SK might be best known as a novelist, but he's the king of the short stuff as well.


  1. Thanks for the tip, John. I've only read one of King's books before; none of his short stories. I now have this book on hold at the library (with 124 people in line before me!). Happy new year!

  2. You'll like it, Barb. And if you do, I have some of his novels to suggest: The Stand, It, The Dead Zone, Misery, The Green Mile, and 11/22/63, among others. I just did a count, and I have all of SK's books here on the shelf beside me: 65 of them, if I counted correctly, I think he's one of the best storytellers around.

    I just heard that 11/22/63, a time-travel love story, is being adapted for TV. Hope that's correct.

  3. John, The two stories you mentioned at the end come from FOUR SEASONS, not FOUR BEFORE MIDNIGHT. A third novella from that book, Apt Pupil, was also made into a movie. Makes you wonder what was wrong with the fourth one.

    I don't enjoy King's novels. Too logorrheic for me. But his short stories can be amazing. "Quitters, Inc." is on my list of fifty best mystery stories.

  4. Quite right, Rob--thanks for the correction. I should've walked the ten feet to my bookshelf and checked that!

    As for King's shorts, some of my favorites are "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" (from Skeleton Crew, I think) and "Mute" (from Just Past Sunset. And many others. I believe "Quitters, Inc." was made into a segment of a feature film--was it Cat's Eye?--with James Woods as the smoker trying to quit.

  5. And Just Past Sunset should've been Just After Sunset. Proofread, proofread.

  6. Well, I think you've convinced me. Years ago, I started reading CARRIE, didn't like it, and haven't tried King since (except ON WRITING, which I love). But you make this collection sound hard to resist. I'll put it in my shopping cart and think it over for a while. Thanks for the recommendation--and happy new year.

  7. Thanks, Bonnie. Yep, On Writing was the best book on writing I've ever read. I think you'd like some of King's other stuff as well.

  8. I'm going down on Monday to get it from the library!

  9. The Stand and Night Shift: two of my favorite books EVER!

    Kudos to Rob, also, for whipping out the word 'logorrheic' which sent me to the dictionary. Always love that activity!

    I like what you say about shorts vs longs, John. Sounds like I've got a new Steven King I've got to read.


  10. Thanks, Eve--I think you'll like most of the stories in this book.

    Dix, The Stand will always be one of my favorite books. I read it many years ago, and then reread it when the new longer edition was published. It's one of those huge books that I honestly hated to see end. I have recommended it to many of my friends over the years, and I don't think anyone's ever been disappointed with it.

  11. I have loved King's short-stories since I read "Night Shift" one weekend when I was in college about 1981! And I got "Bazaar of Bad Dreams" for Christmas, after dropping about five months of hints (even before the book was released!)

  12. Glad you got the book as a Christmas gift, Jeff. Read the stories slowly and make 'em last.

    I agree with you on Night Shift--those were the first King short stories I'd read, too, and I still remember most of them.

    Have a great New Year!

  13. Good suggestions and happy New Year.

  14. Thanks, Ann Marie! Happy New Year to you also.


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