‘Some quite significant highs’ – Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

bobdskStephen King’s latest collection of short stories reminded this reader of Neil Gaiman’s most recent collection, Trigger Warning, in that it’s a pretty free-ranging collection, more connected by the fact that here are some things King has written than by any thematic cohesion (an element emphasised by the fact that there are stories here, like ‘Premium Harmony’, in which King doffs his hat to Ray Carver, and poems – yes, that’s right poems – like “The Bone Church” and “Tommy”, that are not horror by any stretch of the imagination). Bazaar of Bad Dreams is better than Trigger Happy, though, by some way, largely as a result of some quite significant highs.

Let’s talk “Ur” first. This is the long story King wrote at the behest of Amazon, although we won’t hold that against him. The basic gist of the story is: the narrator is sent a kindle that allows him to see what famous writers wrote in different dimensions. It’s a tremendously readerly conceit and makes for a fascinating and compelling read. Certainly one of the highs of the book. Ditto “Morality”, which you may have already read if you purchased Blockade Billy (which is also included here – if you’re interested, second time through, “Blockade Billy” feels like one of the weaker inclusions – but that could just be down to the fact that I’m English and baseball bores me), which reads a little like King’s take on Indecent Proposal. “Bad Little Kid”, “Herman Wouk is Still Alive”, “The Little Green God of Agony” and (possibly especially) “Obits”, “Drunken Fireworks” and “Summer Thunder” are all solidly good times. If you’re a King fan, these are the stories that justify the price of entry. If Bazaar of Bad Dreams were a double album, these would all form singles over the course of the next few months.

In addition , King offers us wee snippets of background as to how the stories came to be written and we hear about people he glimpsed in diners or car accidents he read about that sparked his creative fires, all of which serve to whet your appetite whilst at the same time harking back to On Writing, a King book that doesn’t often feature in many readers best of King lists but which is actually right up there when it comes to sheer enjoyment. There are stories here that are not horror (something King likes to try his hand at every once in a while, something he has done since Different Seasons, way back when), some stories that are King stabs at comedy. Possibly the inclusion of some high profile works that have been published separately elsewhere before takes the edge off the book and stops it quite ranking alongside his last collection of short stories, Full Dark, No Stars – but it’s a minor quibble, the kind of criticism a completist is likely to make.

The comparison does throw up an interesting point, though: where Full Dark…, we felt was harsh, this book is fun, this book is King having a good time, stretching himself, cracking his knuckles, trying on different hats (just as, arguably, he has been doing with Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers). The fact that, so many books in, there are still new avenues to be explored beggars belief in many ways.

Any Cop?: Whilst I remain unconvinced by his poetry (and he threatens that there are lots and lots of poems that have never seen the light of day – it can only be a matter of time, surely – and who am I kidding, we all know I’d read them), King remains a master of the short story form and there are plenty of examples here supporting that fact.

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