There’s a common criticism that Stephen King’s novels often go awry during the finale. So, it’s interesting to me that his short stories not only often have phenomenal endings, but that sometimes it’s difficult to imagine the story without that finale tacked onto the end. Hmm. There's a mystery here. Well anyway, today I’m taking a look at King’s newest short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.
Bazaar of Bad Dreams collects a bunch of previously published shorts, plus a few that are exclusive to this collection. I’m not sure that there is an overriding theme to the collection, though it does feature some very dark work from the writer. I’m going to put extra emphasis on my favorites and give a brief rundown of the others afterward.
Mile 81 – Stephen King has a thing for scary, evil cars. Christine, From a Buick 8, and lest we forget the man’s sole directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive. Mile 81 is perhaps King’s most frightening take on the evil car scenario and it’s a hell of a way to start the collection. Basically, there’s a station wagon pulled over at the side of the road… and if you touch it, it crunches your hand and slowly devours you, like it’s actually a portal to somewhere else. It might sound silly but it’s really chilling stuff.
Bad Little Kid – This is a story about a bad little kid that seems to belong to no one and only shows up to ruin people’s days. He keeps showing up in George Hallas’ life, inflicting psychological harm on those close to George. It’s a dark story about bullying and revenge.
A Death – I’d read this before on the New Yorker’s website. I think it’s excellent. A Death is a western murder mystery. A girl has been found dead and raped. All the evidence points to a rather simple fellow, except he says he's totally innocent, and the sheriff is starting to believe him. Stephen King's a pro at the short story and I consider this to be one of his best shorts. It has enough story to fill a novel but he doesn't draw it out. A Death is fantastic storytelling from beginning to end.
Blockade Billy – King loves baseball and this is his ode to the classic games of yesteryear. But, as expected from King, it has a dark edge to it. Rookie catcher Blockade Billy Blakely becomes a rising star for the way he defends the plate, but there’s just something not quite right about the guy. This is probably the longest story in the collection—it’d previously been published as a solo novella—and it’s also one of the best and most memorable.
Tommy – This is a poem about a lost friend from the 60s that plays out during and after his funeral. It’s profane, funny, and wise.
The Little Green God of Agony – This story seems like an interesting parallel to King’s recent novel Revival. Like that book (which I quite liked, especially the final act), Little Green God of Agony deals with horror, religion, and the power of healing.
The remainder of the collection is a mix of good, bad, and everything in between. I have basically no memory of Premium Harmony, the book’s second story. Batman and Robin Have an Altercation ain’t bad but there’s not much to it. The Dune is a strong story about predicting tragedy. The Bone Church is one of the collection’s other poems; I liked this one less than Tommy. Morality is a daaaark little drama about the vicarious thrill of committing violence for sin’s sake. Afterlife is an amusing, complex, and ultimately sad look at the first stop we make after death. Ur is a high-concept tale about a Kindle that intercepts stories from other dimensions where certain authors lived longer, more prolific lives. Herman Wouk is Still Alive is dark and honest but ultimately forgettable. Under the Weather might be the most obvious of stories that I’ve ever read by Stephen King. Mister Yummy is the story of a gay man that survived the Aids epidemic and is later visited by a beautiful Angel of Death. That Bus is Another World tackles some of the same themes as Morality but to greater success, I think. Orbits is Death Note by way of Chuck Palhniuk and it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Drunken Fireworks is the collection’s most comical story but it overstays its welcome a bit. And with the book’s finale, Summer Thunder, it’s like King looked at Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and thought, ‘It’s good, but it’s not nearly depressing enough.’
All in all it’s a solid collection of stories. Blockade Billy, Mile 81, and A Death are my favorites of the collection and make the book worth seeking out when you’re in the mood for King’s particular brand of creepiness.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is available on Kindle, hardcover, paperback, and audiobook. Review cross-posted to Goodreads.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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