Saturday, December 5, 2015

Book Reviews: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
By Stephen King
I am always fascinated by artists or other performers who are at the top of their game. Whether it's watching Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing three saxophones at once, Stephen Curry making other professional basketball players look silly or Bruce Lee demonstrating his one inch knockout punch it's a beautiful thing to experience. We only see the finished product but don't see all the hard work it took to get there. Stephen King is one of America's, maybe the world's greatest writers. And he's still got it. This is a collection of short stories which were all new to me though several of them were previously published in slightly different forms in such magazines as Playboy, Esquire, The New Yorker or The Atlantic. So if you're an King collector/fanatic you may already be familiar with some of these tales. But as King says as far as he is concerned no story is every really done until the writer is dead. King says one question that people always ask him is where he gets his ideas. King states that the question is essentially unanswerable. Nevertheless he gives an introduction to each story which provides the reader an entry into his state of mind at the time of the story's creation. He even occasionally explains exactly where and how he thinks the story germinated. So there's that gift for those of us who want to know how the magic works. King also announces that he does not do confessional fiction but then declares that obviously as he ages ideas about what happens next and what do we leave behind start to come more and more to the forefront. And his near death experience after being hit by an inattentive driver has seemingly become something which well, haunts his writing, might be too strong of a phrase but informs his work, would not be. So like everyone else King is a man of paradoxes and contradictions. Go figure. Although King is known as a horror writer, that's not necessarily a title he seeks out. He tells the story of being sent to the grocery store by his wife and being accosted by a woman who chides him for writing all those scary supernatural stories. She wants to know why can't he write a nice uplifting story like "Shawshank Redemption". King replies that actually he wrote that story. The woman responds "No you didn't". And King can't convince her otherwise. Perhaps this collection can be of interest to people who think that King can only write supernatural or downbeat stories. Even where there is a supernatural element it is extremely well integrated with the rest of the story. I think that about half of the stories in this book do not have any supernatural components. You will have to decide for yourself if they are uplifting or not.
King has always impressed me most with his ability to create firmly believable characters. This talent is most easily seen in his novels of course but it's even more on display in his short stories here. In a very small number of pages King can build fictional people who just reek of verisimilitude while other authors can take damn near the entire book to create flat and lifeless characters. With most of the stories here I didn't feel as if I was reading them so much as if I was transferred into that reality. There was very little skimming occurring while reading this collection. That's usually a benefit of a short story collection though. If something doesn't really make your skirt fly up there's a new story arriving in just a few pages. I liked most of these stories. King includes some of his poetry. But I'm not a huge poetry fan so I couldn't really get into that. If you're looking for what you think of as the "typical" King story, the author has got you covered with "Mile 81" which introduces some good Samaritans, some frightened kids and a car that is more than meets the eye. "Dune" could be the best story of the book as it saves the shock for the final sentence. Then again "Herman Wouk is still alive" could also challenge for the best story of the collection. Two impoverished women, best friends since high school, go on a road trip while at the same time two old poets go on a picnic. King strongly believes that a writer should be able to write from any point of view. He puts this belief to the test in "Mister Yummy" in which an elderly gay man tells of strange things he's seeing in a retirement home. "Blockade Billy" is a rollicking story set in the classic 50s-60s baseball era. A strange catcher comes out of nowhere to invigorate a team. "Morality" examines how a married couple in dire financial straits responds to a proposal (and no it's not that kind of proposal) from the wife's employer, a wealthy older man. In "Drunken Fireworks", a Maine rivalry between a wealthy Italian-American vacationing family and a drunk man and his obese alcoholic mother slowly gets out of hand. In "Under the Weather" King examines the ability of the human mind to deny reality. As the story is told from the pov of the person who's an unreliable narrator there are a few juicy surprises in store for the reader. "Ur" uses a typo made while ordering online to explore love, fate and the question of multiple universes. There are other good stories here which I won't describe. Basically if you're a King fan you should buy this book. And if you're new to King you should buy this book. I read most of it while spending too much time at an auto dealership waiting on repairs. The repairs took twice as long as they should have but I wasn't that upset because I had this book to read.

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