King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, more like a nap of fleeting thoughts

UK Cover Version
UK Cover Version

Have you ever awoken feeling a little shook up, or out of sorts because of a bad dream, one you can’t quite remember? I’m sure you have. You try to recall the details if only to sort out why it bothered you, why this particular dream…

If you started a book in 2015, but finished it in 2016, does it count as your first read of the new year? Let’s assume yes, only so that my yearly review is once again a Stephen King book. Last night I finished, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories, some previously published, one redone, and one expanded.

After finishing the book, I turned on HBO-Go, hoping to finish the night with a laugh, when I noticed that they finally brought back season one of True Detective. I’ve longed wanted to watch this ever since I caught a partial viewing of one of the last episodes, one that had me curiously riveted. I am only one episode in, so no spoilers please.

In one scene, Matthew McConaughey’s character says something deeply profound about the state of the town he has just moved it. He looks around the parking lot of a grown over boarded-up strip mall, outwardly dejected by what he sees. The mall’s condition is a metaphor on his feelings towards his new surroundings; “This town looks like someone’s memory of an American town, but the memory is fading”.

This quote struck me in many different ways and could be applied to many different ideas, most being political in nature, yet, as I started to write my review, I found that it also applied to King’s latest offering. Substitute the word “memory” for “dream” and you may get a feel for this book.

Have you ever awoken feeling a little shook up, or out of sorts because of a bad dream, one you can’t quite remember? I’m sure you have. You try to recall the details if only to sort out why it bothered you, why this particular dream…

King writes an introduction to each story, telling his constant readers how and why he came up with this particular story idea. I found these tidbits often more entertaining than the actual stories they produced. For me, these stories /dreams felt one-dimensional and wispy around the edges, as if they were fading or had never been fully formed to begin with.

King has always been a favorite of mine (long time readers know of my young adult obsession) because he magically creates well-rounded characters from which deep wells of emotions can be drawn from, even if their lives are only found in a few pages. This time the well turned out to be dry.

This first story, Mile 81, is the only exception, but having been previously published as a Kindle offering, long time readers are left with a collection of stories involving stories that don’t quite work, either they end poorly as with Ur or would have worked if they were longer as with Bad Little Kid and The Dune.

King’s constant readers may find pleasure in a few of these stories, Afterlife, the story of a recently deceased man who finds himself in an office and with a choice, is classic King, but most of others may disappoint. There is no running theme in this collection, other than to say they are a look into the dark side of life, but we expect that from King anyway.

These stories are King’s idea of bad dreams; perhaps they don’t work because he usually offers us up nightmares. These we hold on to, these don’t always fade with time. We constant readers cannot get Quitter’s Inc. or Stand by me out of our minds. The memory of these older stories are what keeps us up at night or have us thinking and talking about long after they end.

King says of this collection, “The best of them have teeth”. I wish that this was true, but the best of them do little more than nip at your brain. One or two may have you thinking, but not for long. The memory of the discomfort leaves you as swiftly as it arrived, leaving you wondering if you were truly uncomfortable in the first place. I’d gladly trade these bad dreams of Kings for his nightmares.

If you feel the way I do, I’d skip this book. If you need a King fix, go back and revisit Night Shift or Skeleton Crew, the best of these stories have fangs.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

Talk to me

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