The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

By Stephen King

(Scribner, $30, 512 pages)

Who is this author?

He’s ba-a-a-a-ck! Stephen King, our premier master of literary horror fiction (and plenty more) has a new collection this year, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. King has published more than 50 international bestsellers, including novels, story collections, memoir, mysteries, a guide to writing well and more, not to mention the movies and TV series based on his books. This year, his recent novel, Mr. Mercedes, won the prestigious Edgar Award for mysteries. His awards are too numerous to detail here, but one stands out: the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, an honor that packed a double punch: it confirmed his talent and influence and also annoyed the stuffier members of the literary world. Now 68 and living in Maine with his wife, novelist Tabitha King, he is still productive and still winning awards and plaudits.

What is this book about?

Here are 20 stories and poems, about half of which are new or never before published. His themes are familiar: mortality, morality, life after death, guilt after bad acts, scary supernatural abilities that foretell future sorrows or perhaps actually cause them. In “Obits,” the very act of preparing a death notice for a celebrity for a gossipy website before he or she dies opens the door to the Grim Reaper, as do names written in the sand in “The Dune.” “Afterlife” is a “Groundhog Day” kind of tale, about a guy who keeps getting do-overs but can’t do them right. These stories may make readers uneasy, but they also will make them think.

Why you’ll like it:

King published his first story collection 35 years ago. He knew how to craft a story then and his talent is ever more powerful now. One of the best things about this new book is that each story is adorned with the author’s explanation of why and how it came to be written, which gives the reader some insider’s insights into Kings creative process and prodigious imagination. Here is his chatty but just a touch chilling introduction:

“I’ve made some things for you, Constant Reader; you see them laid out before you in the moonlight. But before you look at the little handcrafted treasures I have for sale, let’s talk about them for a bit, shall we? It won’t take long. Here, sit down beside me. And do come a little closer. I don’t bite.

Except . . . we’ve known each other for a very long time, and I suspect you know that’s not entirely true.

Is it?”

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly gives this book a starred review:  “Renowned author King’s impressive latest collection wraps 20 stories and poems in fascinating commentary. Each work’s preface explains what inspired it and gives readers insight into King’s writing methods, with occasional tidbits of his daily life. The stories themselves are meditations on mortality, destiny, and regret, all of which showcase King’s talent for exploring the human condition. Realistic and supernatural elements sit side by side. The tragic “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” contrasts the charmed lives of two world-famous poets enjoying a roadside picnic with the grim existence of two single mothers who are taking one last road trip. “Under the Weather” tells of a man’s fierce love for his wife and the terrifying power of denial. “Summer Thunder,” a story about a man and his dog at the end of the world, is a heart-wrenching study of inevitability and the enduring power of love. Other standouts include “Ur,” about a Kindle that links to other worlds, and “Bad Little Kid,” about a terrifying murderous child (complete with propeller hat). This introspective collection, like many of King’s most powerful works, draws on the deepest emotions: love, grief, fear, and hope.”

The Tampa Bay Times says: “[King]has always had a wicked (in more ways than one) sense of humor, too, and it’s often on display along with the scary stuff in his new short story collection, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams…One of the bonuses of Bazaar is that each story is preceded by a note from the author about its genesis… If you’re looking for King’s paranormal horror side, though, Bazaar has plenty to satisfy you…And if you want King in full funny tall-tale mode, head for Drunken Fireworks. It’s the hilarious story of how its narrator, a Maine native named Alden who lives with his mother in a modest cabin on the ‘town side’ of Abenaki Lake, gets into an ever-escalating Fourth of July arms race with a rich guy on the other shore who’s rumored to be ‘connected,’ if you know what I mean. One lesson: Never buy a firework called Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.”

Says The Miami Herald : “The best stories in The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams are the ones that read like they meant something to King… A Death, which bears the easy, plaintive prose of Kent Haruf, follows a sheriff preparing to go through with the hanging of a man who may have been falsely convicted of murder. Obits channels the snark and cynicism of contemporary culture as its hero, a writer of celebrity death notices for a Gawker-like website, discovers he can kill people by writing their obituaries while they’re still alive. Summer Thunder, the touching post-apocalyptic story that concludes the book, ends on a note of lovely melancholy. Death may be inevitable, King says. But to fret about it or dwell on it is a waste of time when life, even at its most difficult, can bear so many rewards.”

Library Journal’s starred review says: “This collection begins with an introduction by King on why he writes short stories. To the reader’s delight, he also provides a backstory for each tale, enticing the reader with a memory or scenario that prompted that particular selection’s birth. Some of the pieces have been previously published. Some have been polished and revised—”Ur” was originally written as a “Kindle Single” for Amazon. Veering from the short story format, King published “Tommy” as a poem in Playboy in 2010. For baseball fans, watch out for the unexpected ending in “Blockade Billy.” With “The Little Green God of Agony,” King hints at how his life experience shapes his works. VERDICT The stories collected here are riveting and sometimes haunting, as is the author’s style. Surprise endings abound. King is in a class all by himself. Be prepared to read voraciously.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form. Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King  has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers. Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.”


When is it available?

It’s not a dream: copies are waiting at the Albany, Barbour, Blue Hills, Goodwin, Mark Twain and Park branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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