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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories


The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories

Stephen King has been active in the writing game long enough that a fourth generation of readers is discovering his books. With respect to his more recent novels, the argument could be made (and has been made) that his best work is long behind him. In response, I would give holders of that opinion the hefty new collection of King’s shorter work, the appropriately titled THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS. It demonstrates conclusively that King still knows how to spin a heck of a yarn while also creating some of the best work of his career.

These 18 stories (and two longer poems) were published between 2009 and 2015, with the exception of “Obits,” which is seeing the light of day here for the first time. The sources range from the obscure (Granta Journal, Tin House) to the self-styled literary (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's Monthly) and points in between. There are two epic poems from Playboy and two stories that originally saw life as audiobooks and eBooks. You probably have read at least a couple of them before, either in their original form or in a “best of” collection, but unless you 1) have a lot of discretionary time on your hands, and 2) use it to read and collect all things King, it is doubtful that you’ve read all of these stories.

"[THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS] demonstrates conclusively that King still knows how to spin a heck of a yarn while also creating some of the best work of his career."

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS kicks off with a strong winner (as every good anthology should) with the deceptively simple title of “Mile 81.” It’s a novella, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a longer shorter work, and King fits a lot into the story without making it bulge. You have Good Samaritans, a kid who is some place he shouldn’t be, a couple of children in peril, a wonderfully frightening and unknowable menace, and some victims. You will never be able to drive past a highway rest stop or exit --- deserted or otherwise --- without thinking of “Mile 81” and that mud-covered car.

Speaking of children in peril, how about their opposites? Think about your childhood. Was there a kid who you feared and would cross the street or take a different route home to avoid? We all had one, including myself, and I thought of him as I read “Bad Little Kid,” which was an immensely popular German eBook. Throw in a touch (or maybe a slap) of the supernatural, and you’ll be looking over your shoulder all over again (as if you ever stopped).

Then we have “Ur,” which was originally published exclusively as a Kindle single back in the day (just a few years ago, actually) when pretty much all that a Kindle did was function as an eBook reader. The story concerns an English professor at a mediocre university who reluctantly purchases a Kindle, receives a pink one (they only came in white at the time), and discovers that he can purchase stories that were never written in this reality by his favorite authors. It can do a bit more, though, and with fateful consequences. “Ur” caused me to charge up my first generation Kindle just to see if I could obtain similar results (the answer would be “no”). Before I read “Ur,” my super-genius eight-year-old granddaughter and I happened to have a discussion about some of the issues raised in “Ur” --- about whether or not one could change things, and how it would change other things. The timing may have been coincidental. It’s an unforgettable story, lightly told but powerfully memorable.

There is more. Much more. Do you miss what might be called the “old” King? The guy who wrote “Children of the Corn” and “The Jaunt”? Well, my friends, that King is well represented here in a story titled “The Little Green God of Agony.” This bad boy, which is all about chronic pain and its causes and cures, has seen life in print and art form. The print one is here, but you can find the sequential art version online (for free) as well. You’ll never have a backache again without thinking of it.

King also makes a return to the western genre (what was The Dark Tower series, particularly the first few books, if not a western?) in “A Death,” which interestingly enough appeared for the first time in The New Yorker. It’s a tale of a rush to rough justice and is one of the best pieces of short western fiction I have read. And for those who don’t consider King to be a “serious” author, try “That Bus Is Another World” or the dead-on brilliant “Premium Harmony,” both of which put me strongly in the mind of John Cheever, particularly the latter. These two very different stories illustrate how life is made of moments and how quickly and irrevocably things can change. Or don’t.

One quibble: It would have been nice to have the original source of each of the previously published stories identified in THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS. What is terrific, though, is that instead we get an introduction to each story written by King himself, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. To name but one, the introduction to “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation” (and, in recent memory, has there been a better title than that?) uses a wonderful metaphor to describe the forms in which stories come to him. The introductions make for a wonderful lagniappe to a collection that will leave all of its readers enthralled.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 6, 2015

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories
by Stephen King

  • Publication Date: October 18, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • ISBN-10: 150112787X
  • ISBN-13: 9781501127878