I have long believed that Stephen King’s short stories and novellas, taken as a group, are even more powerful and more memorable than the author’s more famous novels. King’s new story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, makes me more certain than ever that this is the case. A few of the twenty stories in the collection were familiar to me because they (or some version of them) have been previously published. But as King says in his (very short) Author’s Note, “…that doesn’t mean they were done then, or even that they’re done now. Until a writer either retires or dies, the work is not finished; it can always use another polish and a few more revisions.”
As it turns out, two of my favorites from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams are stories I remembered reading before - and not coincidentally, they involve two of my favorite things: baseball and reading. The first, “Ur,” is a story about the Kindle from Hell. This little pink e-reader literally opens up whole new worlds to anyone who dares read from it, worlds in which authors whose careers were tragically cut short by early death manage to live long lives and produce books never dreamed of in the reader’s own world. Who would not love to discover a dozen never-read books from their favorite authors from the past? But this is a Stephen King story, so there’s a catch…as usual.
“Blockade Billy” tells of a no-name baseball catcher one major league team has to turn to when it loses its last regular catcher on the final day of Spring Training. This kid is so unknown that no one even knows what he looks like – only that he is somewhere in Podunk, Nebraska, and that he is both available and expendable. When the kid starts to tear up the league (both as a hitter and as a physical threat to the opposition), one of the team’s coaches notices that something is not quite right with the kid. That’s an understatement, Coach.
And then there’s “Drunken Fireworks,” the story about two families who every Fourth of July for several years produce competing fireworks displays from the opposite sides of a narrow lake. The problem is that year after year, the wealthy family from out-of-town easily outshines the efforts of the poor family on the town side of the lake. The battle escalates every year, but the results are always the same – until Alden McCausland finds a Canadian fireworks supplier with Chinese connections. Then it’s “welcome to the show.”
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams has something for every kind of Stephen King fan. There are traditional monster-filled horror stories, more serious looks at human nature, one of the saddest dystopian stories imaginable, and even a poem or two. There are no stinkers in this collection, and I suspect that each of the twenty offerings is going to be someone’s favorite.