02 January 2016
A Bizarre Bazaar
by John Floyd
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.