The prison was twenty miles from the nearest small city, on an otherwise empty expanse of prairie where the wind blew almost all the time. The main building was a looming stone horror perpetrated on the landscape at the beginning of the twentieth century. Growing from either side were concrete cellblocks built one by one over the previous forty-five years, mostly with federal money that began flowing during the Nixon years and just never stopped.
At some distance from the main body of the prison was a smaller building. The prisoners called this adjunct Needle Manor (99).
Stephen King closed 2015 with a diverse collection of short fiction that displays his sense of horror, humor, hokiness, and humanity.
Title: Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
First published in November 2015
King collects his most recent short fiction, and includes often amusing introductions for each, which provide clues to their origins.
Short fiction collections provide an excellent way to read a writer; if one tale isn’t to your taste, you’ll find something to like in the next. Standout work in Bazaar include “The Dune,” a classic sort of story that at one time would have turned up in high school anthologies and been adapted for The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It works even if you see the twist coming, as you likely will. The apocalyptic “Summer Thunder” may not offer much by way of plot, but it features some of King’s finest prose. “Ur,” written for a Kindle promotion, rises above its inspiration and its obvious central conflicts to become something genuinely intriguing.
“The Bone Church” tries to recreate a lost poetic monologue King wrote in college; it’s not bad, but I think it would have been better left on the Common. And while I enjoyed the baseball story, “Blockade Billy,” the writing feels leftover from King’s early days, with an excess of foreshadowing and a twist that, notwithstanding, comes out of left field.
Originality: 3/6 King runs a bizarre bazaar. “Bad Little Kid” is the most recent in a line of King horrors in which an entity both monstrous and conspicuous inexplicably torments someone at cyclical intervals. “Mile 81” could function as a kind of “Introduction to Stephen King 101,” with its bizarre monster and string of characters from King Central Casting (the protagonist, although a contemporary kid, wouldn’t have felt out of place in “The Body”). “Morality” is an interesting take on Faustian bargain. Other pieces, like “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation” are their own thing.
Imagery: 5/6 “Summer Thunder” contains some beautiful descriptions of a dying earth.
Story: 5/6 “Obits,” like “The Dune,” has one of those premises that helped make King’s reputation. I’m still not sure what to make of “A Death,” however.
Characterization: 5/6 King continues to create a broad range of characters.
Emotional Response: 5/6 King remains a source of entertaining reading, so much so that he has become a part of the culture. At one point in Bazaar, a character refers to one of King’s novels, not as part of a shared reality, but in a passing allusion to Stephen King’s fictional work. Like him or not, King has earned the right to do that. We do know his work, if only from the movies.
Editing: 5/6 King’s at his best in his shorter works, which require him to reign in his excesses, and his writing style has only improved over the decades.
Overall Score: 5/6
In total, Bazaar of Bad Dreams receives 33/42