Stephen King is renowned for writing such lengthy works that you could easily bludgeon somebody to death with one of his books. King creates such vivid characters with near complete histories in those colossal tomes that you often forget that you’re reading something lengthier than War and Peace, or the entire Lord of the Rings saga, and depending on your point of view it either enriches the whole reading experience or it can be a bit of a slog. However, unlike many authors who may be masters at creating epic doorstop novels but are woeful with the short story form, King is a master of both as evidenced in his latest short story collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams.
The opening tale Mile 81 is firmly entrenched in familiar King territory in which a people-eating car awaits unwary victims, like a venus fly trap, on a lonely Maine highway. King even throws in a self-referential Easter egg with a direct reference to the movie version of Christine, which will either annoy or amuse.
Not every story in this collection concerns monstrous horror. There’s the touching tale of a son and his Alzheimer’s suffering father who lets slip that he had an affair with a neighbour in Batman and Robin Have an Altercation and Under the Weather in which a husband has the most torturous experience of trying to come to terms with the death of his wife.
Each story is preceded with an introduction by King where he briefly describes the hows and whys for the inspiration for that story. Premium Harmony, he informs the reader, is his homage to the celebrated American author Raymond Carver whose writing style he admires greatly, but as this reviewer has never read Carver I’ll have to take his word for it.
Perhaps the best of this collection would have to be Obits in which an obituary writer for a sleazy gossip spewing website discovers that he can kill people by writing their obituaries in advance. How many writers have imagined having such an ability one wonders. Obits has won the 2016 Edgar Award for best short story and deservedly so for it is a bitingly dark and satirical look at tabloid journalism. Ur is another stand out tale where an Amazon Kindle reveals new works of fiction from long dead writers such as Poe and Hemingway. When Amazon asked King to write a story to publicise their new Kindle device it’s a fair bet they didn’t anticipate this little gem.
All short story collections are a bit hit and miss and Bazaar of Bad
Dreams is no exception. The Bone Church and Tommy are touted as narrative poems
but they read more like a stream of consciousness and hence are too ambiguous
to make any real sense. However, there are more hits than misses with just a
smattering of middling so if you are a fan of King you’ll know exactly what to
expect, but if you are new and want a taster to the man’s work then the
excellent Night Shift would be a great place to start.
THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS / AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING / PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW