Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015) by Stephen King, containing the following short stories:

Mile 81  (2011): Jaunty, fairly basic horror collaboration between the King of 2011 and the college student King of the late 1960's. Kids, cars, and a monster.

Premium Harmony  (2009): Rueful, comic slice of life.

Batman and Robin Have an Altercation  (2012): Rueful, comic slice of life.

The Dune  (2011): Minor dark fantasy piece... with a twist!

Bad Little Kid (2015 first English publication here): Great horror story is also quintessential King in the way it puts an almost homey, American 'pop' spin on a long-standing horror trope while also making a completely innocuous object into a source of gradually earned terror.

A Death  (2015): Mildly ironic bit of Old West existentialism.

The Bone Church  (2009): Interesting, not entirely successful poem.

Morality  (2009): King's much creepier take on the premise of something like Indecent Proposal.      
Afterlife  (2013) : There's a sinister underlier to this post-mortem fantasy that makes it work. More in the vein of Charles Beaumont than Ray Bradbury.

Ur  (2009): A good modern riff on an old fantasy chestnut gets derailed about 2/3's of the way through by the introduction of another chestnut that makes the whole thing seem like King's 11/22/63 writ very small. 

Herman Wouk Is Still Alive  (2011): Another slice of life with a horrifying conclusion.

Under the Weather  (2011): Return of the Unreliable Narrator.

Blockade Billy  (2010): King's 1950's novella about baseball and madness is a mostly understated gem.

Mister Yummy (2015 first publication here): One of those later King stories that seems as if it should be about half as long. An interesting idea drags on and on.

Tommy  (2010): Another interesting, not entirely successful poem, this time meditating on the 1960's and loss.

The Little Green God of Agony  (2011): Supernatural 'gotcha' story ends several paragraphs too early for me.

That Bus is Another World  (2014): It's the set-up to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple novel 4:50 from Paddington...on a bus! But without an ending!

Obits (2015 first publication here): Interesting, overlong horror-fantasy sort of trickles out at the end.

Drunken Fireworks (2015): Intermittently funny piece seems like a sort of Stephen Leacock Mariposa piece for a much more scatological millennium.

Summer Thunder (2013) : Rueful, dire end-of-the-world story seems like a much lesser book-end to King's 1974 gem "Night Surf" -- and the book-ending includes the use of men in their sixties in this story as opposed to the teenagers of "Night Surf." Will the circle remain unbroken?

Overall grade: Recommended. It's not up to the quality of King's first two collections (Night Shift and Skeleton Crew and very few horror collections by anyone are), though it may almost be as good as Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and seems to me to be superior to Everything's Eventual and far, far superior to King's previous short-story collection, the mostly skippable Just After Sunset

The best story (and best horror story King's written in a very long time) is "Bad Little Kid," which is a deft and very much quintessentially Kingian reimagining of a horror trope that's been seen in such all-time classics as Sheridan Le Fanu's "Green Tea" and "The Familiar" or M.R. James "Casting the Runes" and "Canon Alberic's Scrapbook," among so many others.

I suppose the difference between the King of 1975 and 2015 could be explained thusly: had he written "Bad Little Kid" in 1975, it could still have been a great horror story. However, it would have been half the length. And odds are that a relatively stereotypical supernatural ritual might have been tried by a character or characters to deal with the supernatural menace. Instead, there's a sorrowful, almost elegaic tone to the story as something terrible torments somebody again and again over the years. It's a terrific, terrific story: the old man can still bring it.

1 comment:

  1. Summer Thunder was my favorite story of the bunch, a perfectly bleak, perfectly depressing piece of work.