There is a treasure here for every reader: a man who keeps reliving exactly the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again; a columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries; a poignant tale about the end of the human race and a firework competition between neighbours which reaches an explosive climax.
‘I made them especially for you,’ says King. ‘Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.’
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.92 out of 5
“You can’t come,” his older brother said.
George spoke in a low voice, even though the rest of his friends – a neighbourhood group of twelve-and thirteen year olds who styled themselves the Rip-Ass Raiders – were up at the end of the block, waiting for him. Not very patiently. “It’s too dangerous.”
When I was at secondary school (high school for you non UK-ers) I had a friend, whose mum loved anything and everything horror. When we had sleepovers at her house I was fascinated by the large collection of horror books (and graphic novels) that she had, many of which were written by the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King.
I attempted to read Salem’s Lot and couldn’t finish. I then attempted to read IT. I couldn’t finish. Not because they were badly written, but these ended up in my ‘DNF’ pile simply because I got scared. Not just a little bit scared but ‘asking my friend to hold my hand and come to the loo with me’ scared.
Fast forward maaaaany years and I have successfully managed to complete Under the Dome which is not horror at all and have also managed to read some of his sons (Joe Hill) books and thoroughly enjoyed them which is why I’m trying to ease myself into reading more Stephen King books. The man that brought us The Shining and Carrie also brought us Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, after all.
This may, amongst many things, backfire on me and my overactive imagination. I don’t do horror because I can’t do horror. I freaked myself out one night by convincing myself that if i tried to turn on the light that a hand would already be waiting for me on the light-switch. I also had a dream recently where I was wondering in a sculpture garden and in the middle of a clearing there was a giant, multi-eyed, winged sculpture entitled, ‘His True Form.’ I don’t know if I need to be reading horror.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams took me a while to get through which is unusual for a collection of short stories but the size of this book is quite comfortably ‘novel – sized’ and the thing with short stories is that you can put down and pick up at leisure.
There’s predominantly two things I want to comment on: –
- Writing style
- Story content
Listen… it’s Stephen freaking King. Whether you like his style or not, whether you enjoy his books or not, there’s a reason he is an incredibly prolific writer whose name is instantly recognisable. He is an extremely good writer.
I learnt a way back that you can tell when a publishing house is selling the author over the content and that is because their name is equal to or greater then the size of the book title. Are you purchasing The Bazaar of Bad Dreams or are you buying Stephen King? You’re buying Stephen King, and with it, a promise that the quality of what you are about to read will be high.
I have read some criticisms that his writing quality has declined over the years, especially as he writes books so quickly but I haven’t read some of his earlier work in full (see my first paragraphs) so I can’t be the judge but I will tell you this, he could write better quality work in his sleep* than I could fully caffeinated.
*I do believe he wrote some of his work in the 80’s or 90’s when he was completely off his face on drugs and the book reading world couldn’t get enough. Apparently, it was some of his best content so what that tells you about talent I don’t know….
As far as his writing style goes? Well I like it.
I like him too I think. Not that I know him but what he reveals of himself is actually rather interesting. This brings me onto the second point to comment on. Story content.
He prefaces each story in this collection with a tale of when he wrote it or why. In truth, I found some of these recollections more stimulating than the story that followed. He is a unique person who has lived an interesting life. Even when a recollection is ‘ordinary’, his thoughts on what transpired and how he felt about it are fascinating. I would happily read his autobiography if one ever came out (does he have one?) and I have been informed that his non-fiction book ‘On Writing’ is nothing short of excellent.
Unfortunately, I had mixed feelings on some of the stories in this collection. There is a good blend of genre, some border on horror and others range from mildly creepy to extremely creepy. Some are sad. Some are poignant. The ones that don’t hit their mark with me really miss but then ones that do… they really do.
There is a story in the collection about a man who takes his dad to a restaurant every week. He isn’t a young man and his dad is even older and suffers from dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s. This story is about one of those visits and the something that goes wrong at the end. It isn’t so much the end event that is of interest in this story but the gently painful way that it is written and I must confess, I read it on the train and my eyes started to mist over.
Stephen King does have some wonderfully yummy turns of phrase that make me quite jealous because I wish I’d written them. Just a perfunctory written one off line in a short story about ‘cancer having a taste of someone’s body’ is more horrifying to me than any description of demons. His best talent is in observing and capturing the beautiful, agonising, desperate and sometimes horrific way human beings behave.
As he says in the blurb, some of these stories have bite. Some, I think, tentatively nibble. For me his story content is either average or brilliant. If they miss, then they miss but like the girl with the curl when they’re good, they’re very, very good.
Maybe this wasn’t quite the roaring success for me but I will say this… now that I am old(er) and have experienced Stephen King’s writing I am going to attempt to revisit those books that I just couldn’t finish when I was 15. Sure, I’ll probably need to leave the light on when I sleep for about 5 years afterwards but I’m sure it will all be worth it.
Will happily take suggestions. Will happily annotate my entire reading experience. Will happily bill you for my extensive therapy and light supply bill.