Sunday, December 13, 2015

I've Made Some Things For You: A Review of "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams"

It's Wednesday, November 4, 2015 as I write this.  A new King book -- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, natch -- came out yesterday.  My copies (I bought two, one to take notes in) came in the mail yesterday, and I did a strange thing: I didn't start reading it.
  
Long story short: I had a few projects I wanted to finish up because I knew that if I dove immediately into a new King collection, I'd put them off and possibly never get them done.  
  
Projects are now finished, however, and I'm typing these words in preparation for sitting down and getting to work reading.  I'm not planning to do what I normally do, which is to read it in a mere day or two.  Since this is a collection of stories (the vast majority of which I've already read via their original appearances), I figure on taking it slower.
  
Plus...?  A new James Bond movie comes out this week.  I'll be seeing it tonight, which means that I've got to get to work on my review of it for You Only Blog Twice.  The plan there is to watch it three or four times: at least once for enjoyment, and at least as-many-more-as-I-can-squeeze-in for note-taking purposes (no, I won't be taking notes right there in the theatre; that would be lame).  Do the math on that and you'll see that that is going to consume a goodish portion of the next week.  
  
That doesn't leave all that much time for reading, so this post is going to take a bit of a backburner.
  
I know what you're thinking: this sonofabitch who writes a Stephen King blog is shoving Stephen King over the side of the boat in favor of James Bond!  Traitor!!!
  
It isn't so, folks, cry your pardon.
  
The fact is, I have read the majority of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  So while it's exciting to have it in hand and to integrate it onto my shelf, it's a very different thing than if a new King novel had come out.  "And," you ask, "if it had...?"
  
Man, that's a tough call.  My King fandom is probably superior to my Bond fandom, but my Bond fandom is much older.  Still, if I have to choose, I choose King.
  
But I'd still give preference to the new Bond movie.  Here's why: seeing it on the best possible screen is important to me.  It's going to be playing in IMAX near me, so I will be watching it on that screen every time I watch it.  And that's a thing with an expiration-date on it: it will only be there for two weeks, until the new Hunger Games movie comes out.  A new King novel, on the other hand, will be in hardback forever, and my armchair and reading lamp will be in the same place.  My cats are still going to want to get in my lap in a few days.  King can wait, because the experience will be the same, whereas the experience of Spectre will be different in a couple of weeks.  Not hugely; but enough to make a difference to me.
  
Now, here's a question: what if it was a new Dark Tower novel?
  
In that case, I think my brain would probably explode, negating the need for a choice of any kind.
  
In any case, it's irrelevant.  The format of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams means that I can go ahead and start reading, and take it a story at a time.  If 007 muscles Uncle Steve out of the way for a day or two, well, I'll pick back up with a new story once that has passed.  Simple!  No fuss, no muss.
  
My plan, then, is to write this review piecemeal, story by story as I progress.  It won't be super-intensive, and there won't be spoilers, so it ought to be quite easy to write.  Hell, I've already written about most of these stories anyways, so it's possible that I'll mostly be comparing this read to the first one to see how my opinions have or haven't changed.
  
  
  
  
"Introduction"
  
  
I love it when King gives us an introduction or an afterword to his books, and he's typically in fine form when it comes to doing so for his short-story or novella collections.
  
This one is no different.  "I've made some things for you," he says at the beginning, by way of creating the atmosphere of a midnight street-vendor hawking his lovingly-handmade wares.  It's a lovely device that (A) immediately turns me into a fan of this collections's title whereas I'd only been so-so on it before; and (B) reminds me of the beginning of Aladdin.
  

I'll take it!
  
  
"Mile 81"
  
  
In this story, a monster disguised as a car menaces some children at an abandoned rest-stop off a highway in Maine.
  
This story was released as an e-book exclusive in 2011, and I reviewed it both at the time of its release (here, spoiler-free) and half a year later (here, spoilers aplenty) as part of a 2011-short-story recap series.  I was unimpressed by the story both times, and this slightly revised version that appears in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams does nothing to change my mind.  
  
If anything, I liked it even less this time.  My problems with it are numerous: unconvincing depictions of the children; subordinate characters who are annoying at best and grating at worst; weak prose; a monster that has been done with much more panache elsewhere in King ("The Raft," if you accept my assertion that this monster is from the same species as that one); too many perspective changes; and a less-than-convincing finale.
  
The best part by far is the introduction provided by King, wherein he talks about the story's genesis.  Turns out, the idea goes all the way back to his college days.  He says he actually wrote it once back then, under the title "Mile 85," but he lost it, possibly as the result of an LSD trip.  Five decades later, he rewrote it.
  
Sadly, in my opinion, it doesn't amount to much.  I seem to be in the minority among King fandom with this one, though; and that's fine by me, because having an occasional King story or book to dislike makes me feel better about how much I like all the others.

I didn't notice much in the way of revision, although King says the story has been revised for this appearance.  One thing that I know for sure has been changed: in the original version, the protagonist, Pete, mentions having an issue of American Vampire (a nice reference to the Scott Snyder comic-book that Stephen King co-wrote for a while).  In this new version, the comic has changed to an issue of Joe Hill's Locke & Key.  You've got to appreciate King keeping it in the family, but doesn't that make you feel a little bit sad for Scott Snyder?


"Premium Harmony"
  

As King notes in his introduction to the story, "Premium Harmony" was written under the influence of Raymond Carver, whose work he was exploring for the first time circa 2009.  I'm not familiar with Carver; I know the name, obviously, but I've never read any of his work.

Maybe that's why "Premium Harmony" lands a little flat for me.  It isn't a bad story, by any means.  It's one of King's occasional ventures into writing that has no fantastical hook of any sort, but is instead merely a character piece.  I say "merely" as though that limits it somehow; it doesn't.

Essentially, it's a slice-of-life story in which a down-on-their-luck married couple visits a convenience store.  There's more to it than that, of course, but only a bit.

What makes this story get close to working for me is its richness of detail.  In some ways, the story serves as a good document of life circa 2009 in a small American town.  What prevents the story from working for me is a sense that King is (as he hints in his intro) failing to take the situation seriously.  He's put a touch too much humor into the story, for my tastes; it keeps me from fully engaging with the material.

For me, it's a miss; but it's a near-miss, and the elements that work work quite well.


"Batman and Robin Have an Altercation"
  

This -- mercifully or sadly, as befits your viewpoint -- is not King's first foray into the world of the Dark Knight.  It's the story of a 61-year-old man who takes his Alzheimer's-stricken father for a steak at Applebee's.

Like "Premium Harmony," it's a fantasy-free slice-of-life story.  It won't be the last in this collection, and these stories don't sit all that well alongside something like "Mile 81."  Three stories into the collection and I'm beginning to have serious reservations about the order in which the stories have been placed.

Luckily, "Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" is strong enough that it survives any such problems unscathed.  There's a lot to like here, including the genesis of the story's title, as well as its resolution.


"The Dune"
  

When I first reviewed this story in March of 2012, I had so little to say about it that you'd be forgiven for asking why I'd even bothered to review it.  That didn't change the second time I reviewed it, and guess what?  It's not going to change this time, either.

I'm still reluctant to say much of anything specific about it.  At the same time, I don't want all my hints and vaguery to oversell the story to you.  I think it's a great story, but is it some sort of all-time-high for King?  No; it doesn't change all that's come before, as his canon of short fiction is concerned.  It's just a well-told tale that doesn't benefit from being summarized.

It's not unlike "Batman and Robin Have An Altercation" in that it deals with themes of aging and mortality.  Four stories in, and three of them have very much had mortality on their minds.  It makes sense.  After all, King is getting older; he's not (seemingly) up to his twilight years yet, and he still seems spry and fiddle-fit in most of his interviews and press appearances.  But it's coming, and it's getting close and closer every day.

That's true for every single one of us, of course, which means that having King venture into those realms a bit ahead of many of the rest of us and send back reports on what it's like out there is grim, but welcome.  He seems like just the fella to do it.


"Bad Little Kid"
  

With "Bad Little Kid," we've reached the first story in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams that was new to me.  It had been published previously, but only in e-book format in France and Germany.

A lot of hardcore King fans got butthurt* about the fact that they didn't have the option of reading it upon initial release.  I thought then what I think now: that it was a really cool gesture for King to do that sort of a thing for French and German fans.  I'd have been upset if he never released the story in English, but that was clearly never going to be the case.

(*Are people tired of the word "butthurt" yet?  I don't remember when that one first came to my attention, but I feel like it was within the last decade or so.  And many of the slang words/terms of the last 10ish years fill me with a nearly-apoplectic rage, so lame do I find them to be.  So it occurs to me that readers might feel the same way about "butthurt."  I love it, though; it's got that essential quality of slang, which is to immediately and precisely convey the idea it wishes to convey.  So if you're not a fan, I apologize, and hope you will not get too butthurt about it.)

The story is now available to all us English-speaking King fans, and my take on it is that it's quite good.  It's a fucking weird story, though, man.  I think I'll actually tell you a little about this, because why not?  It's another Kingian inmate-on-Death-Row story, this time in the form of a lawyer going in to spend a few hours listening to his doomed client tell him a story.  Specifically, he's fessing up as to the reason why he put six bullets into a child, killing him to death.  See . . . that kid, man . . . that kid had it coming.  That was a bad little kid.

I don't want to say much more than that.  You should read it for yourself.  I enjoyed it greatly, although while I was actually reading it, I found myself feeling a little bit disappointed by what I perceived to be a mild lack of badness on the little kid's part.  I'd read a few brief reviews around the time the story first came out, and they led me to expect the kid was going to be a butcher on the level of Jason or Freddy or Michael.  He's not.

But once I adjusted my expectations -- and this happened in-story, not afterward -- I was fully onboard, and I stayed there.  I loved this story, and after reading it I approve of King's initial-publication decisions even more.  Because he could have just put any old thing out there for his French and German readers as a temporary exclusive, and it would have served its purpose as a thank-you-for-being-fans release.  Instead, he gave them what can only (in my opinion) be considered vintage King.  I give the whole thing a big thumbs-up.

I was reminded of two King classics: It and "The Hitch-Hiker" (from Creepshow 2).  Thanks for the ride, lady!  Hey, lady!  Thanks for the ride!

Neither comparison is hugely appropriate; don't read too much into them.  I just thought of them a bit, that's all.

Finally, I'd be a piss-poor Alabamaian if I failed to mention that part of this story takes place in Talbot, Alabama, which (so far as I know) is a fictional mining town created by King.  I approve!


"A Death"
  

In this non-supernatural Western story, a sheriff takes a man into custody for murder, and he has a trial.  He's found guilty, and he is hanged.  And that's it.

You might think, based on that, that I've spoiled the story for you.  And technically, I guess I did.  But the story here isn't particularly important (and to the extent it is, there are key details that I've omitted); the language and the perspective are what matter with "A Death."  No spoiling those.

"A Death" probably isn't what a lot of King fans would like to read from him regularly, but personally, I can't get enough of this side of King.  This has the tone that I wish the Bill Hodges books had (though I do like those books), and I'd love to see King take a novel-length stab at doing things this way at some point.


"The Bone Church"


Confession time: I don't know diddly-squat about poetry.  I took three or four poetry-writing classes in college, and a fair bit of poetry reading came with the territory.  I wrote a version of this same sentence in one of my Lovecraft posts, but it's worth repeating: for me, I find that reading poetry is, unlike riding a bicycle, something one definitely can forget.  I've forgotten it.  I got fairly good at it while I was doing it regularly during those semesters.  I never was very good at writing it (in point of fact, I was dreadful at writing it, though I could occasionally do well enough to make myself happy with some idea or emotion), but I was good at reading it.  But it was a skill I had to work hard at to be able to maintain; it wasn't unlike a mental version of what I assume was the physical effort exerted by early-eighties Arnold Schwarzenegger to be as ripped as he was.  Like, that shit's hard work, man; that shit don't just happen, you have to MAKE it happen.

Not that I was the poetry-comprehension version of Ahnuld or anything; I certainly was not.  My only point is that I was somewhat fit in that way back then.

I am considerably unfit now, alas, which is why part of me feels ill-equipped to judge the two poems King included in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, of which "The Bone Church" is the first.

So let's abandon that very prospect.  Is it any good as a poem?  I have no idea.  Probably not.  It's no John "The Dream Songs" Berryman, that's for sure.  I think.

Instead, it might be fruitful to ask if it's any good on the level of Stephen King.  Judging from most other reviews, that's a no.  But from me, it's a yes.  I like this poem quite a bit, actually, even though it befuddles me to no end.  I have no clue what half of it is about.  I have no idea what a "greensore" is, for example; I think maybe it means jungle, or perhaps a declivity within a jungle?  A mountain, perhaps?  I've got no clue, and Google doesn't seem to want to help.

What of it?  I don't mind much.  What I'm left with is an old man telling an amused and/or disdainful listener a story while they're in a bar together.  The old man may or may not be a pirate (he says "arrrrr" a few times); he may or may not be full of shit altogether.  If I were reading this as a poem, I'd be less interested in what he was saying than in how he was saying it.  Because I'm attempting to read it as a Stephen King story (albeit one with strange line breaks), I'm focusing less on how he's saying it than on what he's saying.

And then, a strange thing happens: I find myself being sucked in not by what he's saying, but by how he's saying it!  "I'll talk for whiskey," says the narrator; "if you want me to shut up, switch me to champagne."  This certainly won't win King a Wallace Stevens Award, but it paints a bit of a picture.

"Javier fell of a plank bridge and when we hauled him out he couldn't breathe so Dorrance tried to kiss him back to life and sucked from his throat a leech as big as a hothouse tomato," says the narrator at one point.  He goes on to say that the leech popped and "sprayed both" Javier and Dorrance "with the claret we live on (for we're all alcoholics that way, if you see my figure)."

The poem succeeds in these moments, and there are more of them than most reviewers seem to be acknowledging.  I'd read "The Bone Church" before, and can't remember what I thought of it.  Having read it again now, I enjoyed it a good bit.  And that's certainly one of the lessons of reading poetry: a single reading will not suffice, except in the case of a mediocre poem, or a poor one.

So if you read "The Bone Church" and don't like it, back up and give it a second try.  It won't hurt ya none, and you might end up being glad you did.


"Morality"
  

I reviewed this story at around the time of its initial publication in the summer of 2009.  I was fairly laudatory in that (highly spoilery) review, and looking over my analysis of it, I think I probably made some good points.  But I was less impressed upon revisiting the story in the fall of 2015.

The setup involves a retired minister who asks his nurse to commit a sin for him.  He's never done so, and wants to have someone else serve as his proxy in that regard.

The story's themes are interesting, but I was struck on this reread by the feeling that that's really all the story is.  None of it feels real to me; the three central characters feel less like real people than they do like King's attempt to craft a story that English majors can discuss in a classroom.

This is a similar version of the same problem I perceive in "Mile 81": an essential emptiness in the characters, who are merely tools to allow the author to make whatever points he wants to make.

Too harsh?  Well, if so, just go back and read my earlier review; 2009 Bryant was more charitable.


"Afterlife"
  

In this story, a man dies of colon cancer and goes to the afterlife, where he discovers that bureaucracy still exists and there are still decisions to be made.  One decision, at least; but it's a big one.

King is in fine form with this one.  He's having a lot of fun with the concepts at hand, but he restrains himself from going overboard.  To me, it feels like the sort of thing King produced after reading some short stories by his sons Owen King and Joe Hill and deciding that he'd better put on a bit of speed so they didn't lap him.


"Ur"


One of the centerpieces of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, "Ur" is a fun tale about an English professor at a small Kentucky college whose basketball-coach girlfriend breaks up with him.  She's accused him of being a luddite; he's called her an illiterate bitch.  In an incredibly lame attempt to either win her back or spite her -- maybe even a bit of both -- he purchases a Kindle.

As setups for a story go, that one is fairly weak.  King makes it work, though.  It's a close call, though.  Wesley, his protagonist, is a thoroughly pathetic character.  In his Bazaar review at Dog Star Omnibus, friend-of-this-blog B. McMolo makes an excellent argument for "Ur" as a quasi-parody of What It Means To Be An English Major.  He asserts that King is doing a sort of Garrison Keillor exercise with this story, and he's almost certainly right about that.

It doesn't entirely work for me.  There are some very big ideas in "Ur," and I'd argue that they are perhaps a bit too big for the story that is wrapped around them.  I'd also argue that Wesley's weakness is never satisfactorily resolved by the story, nor is it explored sufficiently for the story to serve as any sort of judgment on that weakness.

For that reason, I can't quite endorse "Ur" as a great story . . . but I have no problem whatsoever endorsing it as a good one.  Once the high-concept section -- in which we learn that Wesley's Kindle has come from another level of the Tower a parallel universe and can show him all sorts of things he couldn't see on a normal one -- it becomes irresistible.  You may or may not enjoy where it goes from there; I mostly did, and the connections with The Dark Tower made it a lot of fun for me.  Not, perhaps, a classic; but certainly fun.


"Herman Wouk Is Still Alive"


I wrote a relatively detailed review of this story in January of 2012, and I stand by it; if you're interested, go give it a read.

On rereading it this time, I noticed a running theme involving distress over one's own body.  The two doomed young women are gone-to-fat ladies who were probably no beauty queens to begin with; the two old poets once possessed vigorous and enviable bodies (the man was like a longshoreman, and the woman was attractive enough to have what may have been a three-way with a king and a movie star) but now instead reside in considerably more worn fleshly garments.

King is working here in a more blatantly literary mode -- one suspects the English-major types of "Ur" would approve -- than is usually the case, but there is a good deal of implicit existential horror in this story.  Both Brenda (the fat young woman) and Pauline (the skinny old woman) think a variant of the same thought: wasn't I seventeen just yesterday?  There's horror there for sure.

In his introduction to the story, King talks a bit about a real-life tragedy that helped suggest the idea for the short story to him.  I enjoyed reading King's thoughts, but at this point in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, I'm feeling a bit ambivalent about the nonfictional interjections.  Actually, that's not true; I'm leaning closer toward negative feelings than positive ones.  The introductions have all been good on their own, but the cumulative effect is to keep pulling me back from reading-fiction mode into peeking-behind-the-curtain mode, and I don't know that the back-and-forth is doing the stories any favors.  I think perhaps King might have been better-served by putting the explanations -- which, let me be clear, are very welcome for any amateur scholar like myself -- all in one spot, preferably in the back of the book.

I can hear the objections now: "you know, you could opt to not read them."  True.  But that's not how King presented it, and I want to experience it that way, for better or for worse.

Before we move on, let's look briefly at a passage from the story.  It comes during Brenda's unpleasant epiphany:

Life is basically a rusty hubcap lying in a ditch at the side of the road, and life goes on.  She will never again feel like she's sitting in the cockpit of a jet fighter.  This is as good as it gets.  Her ship will not come in.  There are no boats for nobody, and no camera is filming her life.  This is reality, not a reality show.

I noticed while reading back through my review that there was a reason for something that happened when I reread the story tonight.  When I got to the line "There are no boats for nobody," I stumbled over it a bit, and backed up and reread the previous couple of sentences.  I wasn't sure why King was suddenly talking about boats after mentioning jet fighters.

That's because in its Bazaar of Bad Dreams appearance, the line "Her ship will not come in" (which refers to Brenda's likely fate in terms of getting money from her parents) has been removed.  So when I read my way back through my review and got to the part where I quoted from that paragraph, I saw the line and knew why I'd stumbled a bit.

It's a rather odd line for King to have omitted, because it makes things a lot less clear.  Here's how it reads now:

Life is basically a rusty hubcap lying in a ditch at the side of the road, and life goes on.  She will never again feel like she's sitting in the cockpit of a jet fighter.  This is as good as it gets.  There are no boats for nobody, and no camera is filming her life.  This is reality, not a reality show.

Why sacrifice the clarity that the ship-coming-in motif brings?  I don't understand that decision at all.  I'm tempted to think it must have been some sort of editorial error, but I've got no basis for making such a claim.

I dunno, guys; it's a puzzler.  But it reminds me of something about my King fandom: there's a reason why I try to always buy these stories in their original appearances.  I'd love to say I could devote the time to a fastidious line-by-line comparison of the two versions, to see what other differences might turn up; but that would be a lie, because no such time is in the offing.

And in the context of "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," that's both a comforting and a troubling thought.


"Under the Weather"


This tale first appeared in the trade paperback edition of Full Dark, No Stars.  When I reviewed the story (in hugely spoilerific fashion), I spent a portion of the post trying to figure out whether the story ought to be considered to be part of Full Dark, No Stars or not.  I came down on the side of "not," and its eventual appearance in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams proves, I think, that I was on solid ground.

I won't say much about it here.  It's a very good story, and I'm not going to tell you a damn thing about it, except that it reminded me a bit of Stephen King writing a hypothetical episode of Mad Men.  And since I think Mad Men was handily one of the top five television series of the past decade, that's just fine by me.

Just just read it; try to do so with a minimum of advance warning as to what it's about.  And then, try to believe me when I tell you that the "plot twist" doesn't matter a dadgum bit.  I don't think King even intends it to be a plot twist; I think he's relying on you picking up on what's going on right off the bat.

And that's all I have to say about that.

I do, however, have a brief word about something King says in his introduction.  In discussing the fact that he can't remember where the idea for this story came from, he says: "I sometimes think a book of short stories is actually a kind of oneiric diary, a way of catching subconscious images before they can fade away."  Recall that in the introduction to the book overall, King, in quasi-fictional guise, referred to this collection as a street bazaar where bad dreams were for sale.

This casts the nonfictional interjections into a new light for me.  I now begin to see them as efforts on King's part to do the very thing he has just mentioned: catch subconscious images before they fade away.  In doing so, he is immortalizing them by passing them on to us.  This means that if you were inclined to do so, you could classify this book as a work of nonfiction that contains lengthy fictional interjections!

I won't do so; but you could.


"Blockade Billy"
  

This was "Blockade Billy" 's third time at bat with me, and it was in danger of striking out.  However, this time the story got its bat off its shoulder and connected.

If those two sentences made no sense to you, then I can tell you now that "Blockade Billy" is not the story for you.

I'm not a baseball fan.  In point of fact, I loathe baseball.  When I was in college, I worked in the athletic department of my alma mater, and among my various duties, I worked in the press box of the vast majority of the home games for something like three or four consecutive baseball seasons.  I ran the scoreboard and was the stadium deejay for a good portion of that time.  It was miserable.  I was never a fan of baseball, exactly, although I did go through a baseball-card-collecting phase when I was in middle school; this carried with it a certain amount of attention to the sport, but I was always a lot more interested in reviewing box-scores in the next day's sports section than I was in sitting down and actually watching a game.

This is a good example of the sort of weird fandoms that would pop up for me during that time of my life.  I was super into card-collecting for two or three years.  I was also a big pro wrestling fan for a while.  I collected bottlecaps for maybe a year.  Why?  Beats me.  I think I just liked liking things.  Not a bad way to go about life, I guess.

The baseball-card phase died out, almost certainly because it got replaced by something else.  It may, for all I know, have been my dawning interest in Stephen King; the timing would be about right.  One way or the other, by the early-to-mid nineties, any active interest I had in baseball was a thing of the past.

So putting me in a situation where I'd have to suffer through our shitty team's games at a rate of three or more per week was a recipe for taking a passive non-interest and turning it into an active disinterest.  You sit there during a twelfth-inning rain delay for a couple of hours on the bottom card of a double-header, you'd better be invested in what you're doing.  I wasn't, unless what I was doing was wishing I could gnaw through my own leg and escape the trap.

Ever since those days, I'd prefer to keep as far away from baseball as possible.

Based on that, you'd probably assume that I'm predisposed to hate something like "Blockade Billy" (or Faithful).  And in some ways, I guess I am.  However, I am happy for Stephen King to write about anything he wants to write about.  I don't have to be interested in it; he has to be interested in it, and that's good enough for me, because he has a way of conveying it to his readers.

"Blockade Billy" is one that many King fans -- especially those in countries where baseball is unpopular -- haven't enjoyed.  Part of the reason for that is that his narrator spends a good deal of time discussing actual terminology of the game; in order to enjoy the story, I think a knowledge of baseball is probably helpful.  It may even be a necessity.

When I read the story upon its initial publication, I enjoyed it relatively well, but I expected more.  Or, if I didn't expect "more," I expected something different.  I think I expected something of a more grand-guignol bent.  So I just sort of shrugged at it and filed it in the lower echelons of King stories.

The second time the story came up to bat, I was listening to the audiobook version, narrated by Craig Wasson.  I didn't enjoy it worth a damn, and Wasson was to blame for that.  He's a VERY good audiobook narrator if he's doing straight narration: he's got a great dramatic flair, he understands how to deliver from one sentence to the next, and his voice itself is pleasant.  However, when it comes time to do character voices, he goes into actor mode; and I'd say two out of three of his characters end up being bad to an almost -- for me -- unlistenable degree.  So despite how good much of it is, his performance ultimately took me out of the experience, and I enjoyed it even less than I had when I'd read it for myself.

Years later, I've just finished the third time.  And this time, I liked the story a lot.  Freed of both the expectations of it turning into a monster story and of the story-killing character voices of a narrator, I read the tale for what it is: a nostalgic exercise in world-building centered on a fictional baseball team.  It's even got Mr. King -- who identifies himself AS himself in the story's introduction -- showing up as an off-page interviewer.

However, the story shares a quality with several of the others in this collection: it's about old age pining for youth.  This is a simple story in many ways; and in many other ways, it's a mere lark.  But there's also a genuinely tragic sense to it.  Not so much as it pertains to the titular character, although yes, to him; nor even to his victims, about whom we learn toward story's end (although, yes, to them as well); but most strongly, for me, as it pertains to Danny Dusen, the star-on-the-rise pitcher in search of that two-hundredth win and that spot in fabled Cooperstown.

Danny Doo is destined to get neither of those things, and there's something awful about that.  It's a tacit admission that even when life is at its best, horror and despair and disappointment lurks in the wings.  Danny Doo isn't much different in that regard from the fat lower-class women who rent the van in "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," or the woman who wants to buy a purple ball in "Premium Harmony," or the sad-sack English professor who buys a Kindle to spite his ex-girlfriend in "Ur."

Those are a mere three examples; this theme is prevalent in many of the stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which, at this point in my reading, is beginning to emerge as one of the most consistent and cohesive collections of King's career.

As for "Blockade Billy," yeah, I dug it just fine this time.  But I still don't want to watch any baseball games.  More for the rest of you!

Side-note: I believe the "Mr. King" lurking just off-page is the Stephen King of Song of Susannah, what with the several instances of "19" popping up.


"Mister Yummy"
  

This story is set in a retirement community, and involves an elderly man who gives a friend a family heirloom and helps fix a broken jigsaw puzzle.

I won't tell you who or what Mister Yummy is; you can find that out for yourself.  I will tell you that I found this to be a very moving, and an almost totally successful, story.  Among recent King stories, it probably most closely reminded me of "A Face in the Crowd," King's collaboration with Stewart O'Nan; but of the two, this one is superior.

King-connection alert: the story is set near Hemingford Home, though not in any continuity with The Stand.


"Tommy"
  

The second of the two poems in this book, "Tommy" is probably the lesser of the two, though it is easier to penetrate and has thematic resonance -- though no overlap of actual content -- with Hearts In Atlantis.  That, I suspect, would probably make it the preferred choice of most King fans.

The poem is told from the vantage point of a former hippie who is recollecting the wake for a friend who died in 1969.  The vantage point -- an older man looking back upon youth with both wistfulness and (arguably) contempt -- is what sells it, and makes it of a piece with most of the rest of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.


"The Little Green God of Agony"
  

This story from 2011 represents King symbolically wrestling with the pain he felt while rehabilitating the numerous injuries he sustained in his 1999 car accident.  It's the story of Andy Newsome, the sixth-wealthiest man in the world, who survived a plane crash but sustained numerous broken bones and other injuries.  He's seen specialists all over the world, and none of them can solve his pain problems.  So he's brought in a faith healer.

I reviewed this story twice before (once for the story itself, once for the web-comic adaptation), and I had good things to say.  Still do, too; this is an entertaining tale on every level.


"That Bus Is Another World"
  

I'm itching to talk about this one in spoilery fashion, but I'm going to restrain myself.  Know ye that it was a close call.

I was very struck by this story when I read and reviewed it in July of 2014, and my opinion of it has not changed.  This one is a humdinger.  It's very short, and in terms of plot there isn't a heck of a lot to it, but don't be fooled by that: this is a meaningful and impactful tale.  If it isn't THE best story in this collection -- and I think it is, at least among the ones we've covered so far -- then it's certainly on the shortlist.

The setup: an advertising man from a small firm in Birmingham is headed to New York City to pitch himself as the right company to handle the advertising campaign that will be designed to serve as public relations damage control for an environmental disaster.  He's a cautious and responsible traveler, and he believes greatly in "travel insurance" in the form of time buffers: he's left himself hours to spare in case of delays.

Will there be delays?  You'll have to find that out for yourself.  All I'll say is that the story takes a turn at a certain point, one which you might initially find yourself responding to with some variant of WTF.

Sometimes, when there's a plot twist like the one here, it's hollow.  It runs the risk of taking the story in a direction that thematically invalidates -- or, if not invalidates, renders meaningless -- everything that has come before it.  A really good plot twist, on the other hand, deepens everything that has come before it, and that in turn renders the twist itself effective not merely once, but forever thereafter.

This is one of those.


"Obits"
  

"Being able to read obituaries in advance gives a man an extraordinary sense of power," King's narrator says in "The Dune."  So imagine what it must be like for the narrator of "Obits," who discovers he can write the obituaries in advance and have them actually take effect.

That's a terrific high-concept King setup.  He's penned quite a few of those in short-story form over the years; you could populate a lengthy and excellent collection with the best of them, and I'd argue that "Obits" would belong within its pages.

It reminded me a bit of "Everything's Eventual," and also of "The Word Processor of the Gods."  Really, though, it's its own thing; this is the work of a writer who is still finding new territory to explore, not merely recycling old setups and themes.  Here, he takes on a very interesting setting: the offices -- if you want to call them that -- of Neon Circus, a TMZ-style website that employs the narrator.  King's enjoyment in writing for this setting is palpable, so much so that I would have been happy to read an entire novel set there.

Alas, it's not a novel.  It's a mere short story, and it feels to me as if King never came up with a proper ending for it.  His narrator admits it for him by proxy, in fact.  I think that keeps "Obits" from being an outright classic; but it's effortlessly good storytelling, and even with a mildly weak ending, that's cause for a big thumbs-up from me.


"Drunken Fireworks"
  

You could make a persuasive argument that "Drunken Fireworks" doesn't fit in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams because it's not about the sort of thing that would actually cause anyone any bad dreams.  It's not a horror story, nor is it even vaguely supernatural in content.  It shares those qualities with several other of the stories in this collection, but those other stories do at least explore the darkness of the human condition, whereas "Drunken Fireworks" is merely an amusement about a family of rubes who have won the lottery and are using the proceeds to live on a lake and stay drunk.  They accidentally get into a "Fourth of July arms race" with the Italians ("Eye-Ties") across the lake, who live in a twelve-room mansion three months out of the year and may or may not be connected like the Sopranos.

So, yeah, it's true: "Drunken Fireworks" is a bit out of place within The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  However, the story is a lot of fun, when that's the end result, I don't particularly mind that it fails to thematically cohere with the other stories in the book.  And anyways, elements of it do cohere; there's a subtheme about financial concerns that might be said to result in symbolic class warfare, and that part of the story has resonance with "Premium Harmony" and "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" (and maybe even "Morality," although that's stretching it a bit).

Bottom line: it's a fun story.

King-connection alert: there's a cameo by Andy Clutterbuck, who previously appeared in Needful Things, among others.
 
 
"Summer Thunder"
  
 
If "That Bus Is Another World" has competition for best-of-the-book status, it's from "Summer Thunder."  In fact, if we were using my emotional responses as a measuring stick, "Summer Thunder" would win hands down; it made my eyes leaky.  In the end, I think I'd give "That Bus Is Another World" the gold, but it's a photo-finish.
 
The setup: it's the end of the world, and nobody feels fine.  As one of the not-long-for-this-earth survivors waits for the end to arrive, he takes his motorcycle out for a drive and makes some summer thunder.
 
I'd read "Summer Thunder" before, when it appeared in the Cemetery Dance anthology Turn Down the Lights (reviewed here by yours truly), and I enjoyed its bleak majesty at that time.  Short stories are a bit like songs in the sense that they can be improved or lessened by the company they keep.  Any of you who ever enjoyed making mix-tapes know that if you wedge a fantastic song between two shitty ones, the fantastic one might seem a bit less fantastic.  Or, perhaps, it might seem even better than normal.  It's all a matter of how the various elements rub up against one another.
 
I don't think the compilation order of a short story collection works quite the same sort of associative good/ill, but it works a version of it.  And there's something very interesting to me about the way "Drunken Fireworks" and "Summer Thunder" are juxtaposed.
 
The former is the amusing tale of a couple of hicks who go looking for a really big firework so they can defeat and humiliate their competitive neighbors.  The latter is about the repercussions of a nuclear war.  The former is a frequently-funny lark; the latter is a frequently-heartbreaking elegy.
 
If you were of a mind to do so, you could credit King (or his editor) with making a bit of a silent statement: that the lunatics who caused the nightmarish scenario of "Summer Thunder" were perhaps not all that far removed in intelligence, temperament, logic, and discretion from the yokels of "Drunken Fireworks."  Determined not to let their neighbors have the last word; determined to succeed at any cost.  I said above that "Drunken Fireworks" didn't seem to be the product of or the cause of any bad dreams, and therefore perhaps did not fit in this collection.  I think I probably got that wrong.
 
I'd argue that "Drunken Fireworks" actually makes "Summer Thunder" a bit better (and vice versa), which means that the book ends on a very strong note.
 
*****
  
So, how do I feel about The Bazaar of Bad Dreams overall?  I'd say the results go a bit like this: one mediocrity ("Mile 81"), two near-misses ("Premium Harmony" and "Morality"), a minimum of eight classics, two worthwhile poems, and seven essentially strong stories that one's personal preferences might elevate or demote a bit depending on what you prize from King's writing.
 
All of which, for me, adds up to a nearly-unqualified success.  This is a great collection, one that I'd say ranks very favorably with both Night Shift and Skeleton Crew among the upper echelons of King's books of stories.
 
The abiding tone of the book is of the approach of death.  This is the work of a writer who is looking around and realizing that the sand in the hourglass is running out even faster than he thought.  My personal suspicion is that King is going to live for another couple of full decades, and that we've got probably something like two dozen more new books to look forward to from him.  Shit, man, he's liable to outlive ME, fatass that I am!
 
I don't mean to be morbid, or to make light of the eventual demise of our favorite author.  And I'm not; I legitimately have a feeling that he's got quite a bit of road left.  (I also suspect I've got a good bit on mine, too, although it's going to be dependent on me putting down the chili-cheese dogs at some point soon.)
 
But I think there's simply no room for doubt: whether there are three decades or three years left, King is feeling the weight of time's expiry.  Fourteen of the twenty tales included here feature meditations upon aging, or upon the unexpectedly sudden relevance of mortality.  King, as a horror writer, has always dealt with the unexpectedly sudden relevance of mortality, to be fair; but the emphasis in these stories is different.  They are less supernatural, more realistic; there's an air here of the impossibility of defeating the inevitable.  Part of what makes horror appealing is that the writer can take the inevitability of death, wrap it in an appealingly horrific costume (a vampire, a werewolf, a plague, a clown), and then allow the good guys to defeat it.  They may suffer losses along the way; they themselves may even be lost.  But as long as the possibility of their victory exists, it's a victory for the reader.
 
Some of that still exists here, too (the murderous car in "Mile 81" is beaten by a young boy with a magnifying glass, doing with it what young boys do).  But in most of the stories, the focus is different; King is mostly presenting us not with monsters that can be defeated, but ideas with which we can learn to live.  Even at the end of the world, nuclear fallout might produce glorious sunsets.
 
At the risk of imposing too autobiographical a reading upon the book, I'd add that I was struck by something King wrote during his introduction to the final story, "Summer Thunder."  The story prominently features a motorcycle, and King writes wistfully of his own bike, which he says he's put away now, "and probably for good -- my reflexes have slowed enough to make me a danger to myself and others when I'm on the road and doing 65."  He recalls riding his 1986 Harley Softail from Maine to California after writing Insomnia (itself partially a meditation upon the inevitability of old age), and of seeing what may have been the finest sunset of his life while on that trip.
 
The underlying sentiment seems to be sadness that no further such memories may be made, but gladness for the existence of the ones made already.  In a way, I think that sentiment probably applies to The Bazaar of Bad Dreams as a whole.  But in so doing, I think King has crafted a whole bunch of new memories of their own variety.
 
The motorcycle might be retired, but the writer isn't; and with or without it, he's still riding strong.

38 comments:

  1. (Mile 81) "I seem to be in the minority among King fandom with this one, though" - that's kind of how I feel on the other side of it! Everyone I talk to seems to shrug at this one, whereas I quite like it.

    (Butthurt) I find it somewhat annoying, but I don't get any butthurt over it.

    (Blockade Billy) Totally agree on Dan Dusen. And the theme of this one - and many of these - as you point out: a real nostalgia. Apt that it ends with "Summer Thunder."

    I enjoyed reading the pre-SPECTRE thoughts, although I almost wanted to warn pre-SPECTRE-Bryant that he was in for a bumpy ride...

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    1. Boy, he sure was. I thought about taking all of that out in revision, but decided it made for a pretty good timecapsule.

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    2. I think the charge (re: "Morality," "None of it feels real to me; the three central characters feel less like real people than they do like King's attempt to craft a story that English majors can discuss in a classroom.") is fair. I have the same reaction to "Herman Wouk," for me. I think it's a fine line, probably different for everybody, with such things. Ultimately, it doesn't matter - all stories are fodder for English majors, eventually! WE WILL INHERIT YOU! - so long as the story works.

      "Morality" might not, in retrospect,

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    3. I liked "Morality" a lot when I first read it, but it didn't land for me this time. That could just be sloppy reading on my part, to be fair. But I don't think so. I don't think I believe that somebody who would get that upset and screwed-up over punching a kid in the face is the sort of person who would ever agree to do it, for any amount of money. Conversely, the sort of person who would do it is the sort of person who would be able to live with it. The memory of it might jump up and bite them on occasion; but they'd never descend into the weirdo sex-and-punching levels that these two visit. It doesn't ring true for me.

      It's a bit like one of the less-successful philosophy Trek episodes, something like "The Omega Glory" (though better than that), where everything in the episode is clearly structured just so as to be able to arrive at a pre-determined point of debate.

      And that's okay. Because at least it's something to talk about.

      I certainly understand why you'd lump the Wouk story into the same group. It belongs there for sure. For me, the prose of that story is what sells it. The prose in "Morality" is okay, but it's rarely, if ever, inspired; "Herman Wouk," on the other hand, is frequently inspired.

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  2. Loved your comments, I completely agree with your opinion of Obits. I felt like this was a great setup for an entire novel (or at least a novella) to come and then it just ends - and in my opinion the ending doesn't ring true which is a rarity for me with King.

    My favorite story was A Death and like you said it is the language that makes it so strong. I also understand your complaints about UR but I really did enjoy it immensely. It seemed like the kind of Dark Tower adventure a nerd like me could actually embark upon - sitting in my house and reading every alternate book written by my favorite authors? That is my version of the Dark Tower! Do you know of any of the revisions made to UR? I heard it was revised but I refrained from reading it figuring it would eventually be collected.

    Just wondering, have you gotten feedback that suggests anyone who is a big enough fan to be reading your blog actually prefers spoiler-free reviews? I would love to hear your more specific thoughts on some of these terrific tales including Mr. Yummy and Drunken Fireworks and A Death and well I guess all of them...

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    1. No, the spoiler-free thing isn't in response to any feedback. I wouldn't be inclined to pay heed to that feedback even if I got it. No, it's just a time-saving thing, to be honest; my inclination is to want to really dig into these stories, but the process it takes me to do so is time-consuming and intensive (on account of how slow a reader and how ponderous a thinker I am). Currently, time like that is minimal, so it made more sense to mbe to simply put out some spur-of-the-moment thoughts; and if I wasn't going to dig deep, I didn't want to be spoilery.

      Regarding "Ur," I'll say this: ever since reading the story when it came out several years ago, the idea of the Ur-Kindle has stuck in my brain. I've got a friend with whom I correspond fairly frequently, and one or the other of us routinely mentions something we'd like to borrow an Ur-Kindle to read/view/hear. It really is a grand notion.

      I don't know of any of the specific revisions, but I do have a copy of the original e-book version. I'd love to sit down and do an extensive comparison. Maybe someday!

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  3. That's what I figured on the spoiler-free just wondering as I get set for my own adventure. I'll take your comments on King's work in any size so thanks for squeezing in time for the post. I'm sure this is taking fandom to an extreme but for my 2nd reading I would like to borrow someone's Kindle and read UR on the device he originally wrote it for.

    SPOILER ALERT:
    At the risk of putting spoilers into your spoiler free review I was wondering what you thought the Obits ending would be. I thought that he would end by writing his own obit because he was either so haunted by what he had done or because he knew that he would be used as a tool by the government (or The Shop if we were still in the 80s). I also think that would make a great episode for The Shop tv show that almost certainly was just a lot of hot air. But if anyone involved with that non-show is reading Bryant's blog, take that idea and run with it - I need no compensation...

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    1. Reading "Ur" on a Kindle would be cool. I don't have one, so I don't have that option. Plus, like the professor at the heart of this story, I just prefer books. Always will, but the Kindle in this story would hook me for sure.

      Re.: "Obits," the self-obituary crossed my mind, and that would have been a cool ending. I didn't think he would end it by killing the two women; that seemed too cliched. Getting taken by The Shop and put to work would have been cool; getting taken and put to work by the Sombra Corporation would have been even better. Maybe both were too inside-baseball for King to want to go that route.

      I don't mind the ending as-is. I don't think it ruins the story or anything; just limits it a bit. I loved everything that came beforehand, and the (lack of) resolution doesn't change any of that.

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    2. According to Hans and Lou's new podcast UR originally had a segment about JFK that got cut. This makes sense because I thought of 11/22/1963 when the narrator was talking about the future fighting getting changed. I have a feeling that King took out that section in the revised version because he considered it too similar to that book. Who knows maybe UR gave King the idea of going back and finally writing the Kennedy book.

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    3. I think I remember that being in the original version, now that you mention it. There's a similar reference in . . . is it "Wolves of the Calla"? Might be "Song of Susannah."

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  4. Before anything else, thank you. I'll stop bitching for awhile.

    Agree 100 percent about the introduction. The beginning of Aladdin was exactly the image it conjured up for me too. I was just telling my wife how funny it is that at the time of its release, it was considered the most realistic, groundbreaking animation of all time. The first half hour of that movie sucked me in completely. Which has nothing to do with this post, except that it ties in nicely to the message you got from the collection of how quickly time goes and how we wake up one day with life half-over. Aladdin was released in 1992. How can that be 23 years ago?

    I think I liked "Morality" much more than you did. I particularly thought the ending had a pretty good punch. I also enjoyed "Obits," and thought the ending was right, at least what I remember of it. I think my favorite may have been "Mister Yummy". That seemed to represent a more hopeful take on death and aging, that maybe it's not actually all that scary, and there could be something better waiting for us. Thoughts?

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    1. Bitch all you want! It won't actually alter any of my plans, and I don't mind people wanting and asking for more; I just wish I could supply it. (Speaking of more, you've still got one more Lovecraft post to look forward to -- it won't come out until '16, though, I suspect.)

      I find myself having thoughts like those about "Aladdin" pretty frequently. I think that means I'm getting old. It's fine by me, I guess; the alternative is being dead, and many of those recollections/recognitions end up being kind of pleasant in their way. I find new things to enjoy every year, so it's not like new memories won't be made.

      It is weird to think that Robin Williams is dead, though, isn't it? Man, for a few years there in the midst of that run of movies that included "Aladdin," that dude ruled the world. It would probably be impossible even to estimate the number of smiles he put on faces over the years. And how many more he'll still put; those movies aren't going anywhere.

      I think you make a good point about "Mister Yummy." It was certainly one of my favorites from the book, enhanced a bit by the fact that it was one of the few I had not already read (being as it was new to this collection). I found that to be a very sad story, though (as you point out) not scary. And even the sadness was more of a melancholy than an outright sadness. What got me was the bittersweetness of the aging men realizing that the hot young gay boys didn't have much use for them anymore. I think it was in the story that somebody compared that to aging straight men going to Hooters and sitting around watching the waitresses. If not, I encountered that idea separately somewhere recently. I'm much too filled with shame to engage in that sort of behavior, but I can empathize with it.

      That's been King's gift, historically, I think: his ability to get readers to empathize with his characters, even the villains and (occasionally) the monsters. I wonder if people's preferences between one story and another often come down to little more than their ability to relate to the people in it?

      Probably something there.

      Good call on the ending to "Morality," by the way. It does work relatively well; I just don't buy some of what leads up to it. But that's just me! I don't dislike the story by any means, so I've got no trouble accepting that it would work really well for others.

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  5. Is it just me or did you sorta damn this thing with faint praise? I have yet to read any of the stories within, but as with all else King-penned I'm going to read this in their original publication order. I was actually looking forward to it and now I'm not so sure.

    One thing about this reading in order deal is that I don't get bored with the collections. When I tried reading Night Shift as a collection years ago I kinda got bored, and skipped a few of the stories. I wonder if not reading these in the order that TBOBD has them will give me a different look on them?

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    1. If the impression I gave was one of faint praise, then it's poor writing on my part; I pretty much loved the book, with maybe two stories excepted.

      I'm a believer in the chronological-read approach. I think it yields interesting and useful results. However, a well-organized compilation does a different version of the same, and this is that.

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    2. After re-reading it, I think it would be more accurate to say that the stories that sounded the most interesting to me were the ones you weren't keen on.

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  6. I was waiting anxiously for your review, thanks so much! I feel I am always the odd one out among Stephen King fans. I loved Revival and found it much better than Mr. Mercedes and to me Bazaar was really disappointing. It's actually great to hear your thoughts on it, I think I might have to re-read it and see if I change my mind.

    Millarca

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    1. I appreciate it, Millarca!

      Were there any stories that you enjoyed? Which ones especially disappointed you?

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    2. I liked Mr.Yummy and that's about it I am afraid :( I had already read quite a few of the stories (Blockade Billy, UR, and some others) and I was especially disappointed by Morality and Bad little kid. In both the premise got me interested but the development and ending didn't really work for me. I agree with your interpretation of this collection as a reflection on growing old and dying. Maybe because I thought Revival such a compelling journey into these themes I found these short stories especially weak. Usually in every King's short stories collection that are some that unsettle me, some that scare me and many that stay with me for a long time some way or the other. I have difficulties even remembering what most of these stories were about while reading your review. But I'll surely try a second read and I am looking forward to your review of Revival, I would like to understand why it didn't work for so many people while for me it ranks among my favourite King books (second or third position in my personal ranking). Your blog has been my lighthouse in my exploration of Stephen King so thank you for taking the time to reply :)

      Mircalla

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    3. You are welcome! I love talking about this stuff, so unless I somehow miss seeing a comment, you will ALWAYS get a response from me here.

      The reason "Revival" didn't work for me is probably due to over-inflated expectations. The final fifty pages or so were . . . well, I'd read in several reviews that they were the scariest thing King has ever written. And I ended up not finding them to be all that scary, which sort of derailed the novel for me a bit. Up until that point, though, I thought it was absolute genius. I'm hoping that when I give the novel a second read, I'll get more out of the ending. I definitely want to write something in-depth about it.

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    4. That makes sense! I didn't know anything before starting to listen to the audiobook and it filled me with a sense of existential dread that I associate to the best of Lovecraft. I was truly unsettled by the finale and for me the scariest part was how total the horror was.

      SPOILER
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      In almost every horror story the horror comes from the annihiliation of the individual- death, torture, possession, it's the idea of the obliteration of one's individuality that's so frightening. However, in Revival, the horror is universal, it touches every person who has ever lived, is living or will ever live. That's to me the ultimate horror and something I have never encountered anywhere else. Even in Lovecraft the horror lies ahead. But in this book knowning what awaits after death is a horror you cannot escape and that touches every human with no distintion, even in the past. Death is no escape from the horror but a direct door to the worst of it. I found that almost insufferably bleak and so disturbing I was deeply unsettled. Compared to the somewhat "mundane" horror of Mr. Mercedes and what I felt were serious issues in the writing and the characters there was no competition for me on which was the better novel. But I also have to admit I prefer Bachmann and the darkest side of King. I am almost scared to read again Revival but will have to try at some point and sees if it holds up for me. The whole book had such a sense of grey, deep dread for me, it was so malignant in many ways it affected me deeply.

      Mircalla

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    5. That seems to be a common reaction among King fans, most of whom seemed to really get behind "Revival." I'm the odd one out here, not you!

      Man, I'm really looking forward to reading it a second time. That's going to be one of my first goals for 2016.

      I spent a couple of months this year reading my way through all of Lovecraft's fiction, so that aspect of "Revival" is probably going to land for me a lot more forcefully this time. I want to read the Arthur Machen story "The Great God Pan" first, since King apparently drew some inspiration from it for "Revival."

      I appreciate you leaving these comments! I hope we'll have some good discussion whenever my posts about "Revival" show up.

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    6. I love The Great God Pan and I can also recommend The hill of dreams. I enjoyed your series on Lovecraft as well, at some point you should make a ranking of all movies inspired by Lovecraft/with Lovecraftian influences. Poor Lovecraft has even worse luck than King when it comes to movie adaptions :/
      And yes, looking forward to more discussion!

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    7. Funny you should mention that; I'm currently working my way through the various Lovecraft movies, most of which are dreadful. There'll be a post on that once I've finished them, though I don't think I'm going to rank them.

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    8. I guess it would be impossible to rank them xd Cannot wait for your post! Let's hope one day Guillermo del Toro will do Mountains of Madness as he has been trying to for years and don't ruin it completely.

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    9. Yeah, that would have been a heck of a movie, especially with Tom Cruise in it. Oh, well; maybe it'll come back one of these days.

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  7. Just with regard to Raymond Carver, he wrote a superb short story 'So Much Water So Close To Home'. Link here :

    http://www.nyx.net/~kbanker/chautauqua/carver.htm

    That story was the subject of a song called 'Everything's Turning To White' by my countryman Paul Kelly, off his album 'So Much Water So Close To Home'.

    The short story was also adapted into an absolute cracker of a movie called 'Jindabyne' which starred Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Mrs Hugh Jackman Deborah-Lee Furness and Chris Haywood. Robert Altman's movie Short Cuts was also adapted from nine Carver stories, this being one of them.

    Not a bad pedigree for one short story.

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    1. Just had to jump in here to agree 110% with this assessment of both Carver and "So Much Water So Close To Home."

      I just moved "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" to the bookshelves directly above my computer, which is the "hot spot" for commute-queue reading. Or in this case re-reading.

      Like all the greats, he made it look so easy.

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    2. I've never read any Carver. Someday!

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  8. Okay, finally catching up after the holiday rush.

    Because of the above mentioned festivities I've only just now got around to cracking the covers on a copy of Bazaar.

    My thoughts so far:

    I've read most of them, Premium Harmony, Morality, Under the Weather, and I'm focusing on those I haven't read before.

    Ur:
    Not bad, actually. I could see a nice small, horror flick emerging from this at some point. I'll admit I didn't really get any of the Garrison Keillor vibe Bryan was talking about. I do know this was a story King released way back, and so I think a much more fitting way to think of Ur is as a trial run for what later became "11/22/63".

    "Ur" could almost serve as a companion piece to "63" in many ways. In terms of character, I didn't worry that much, as it all seemed to work for me. The major question I have is: what exactly has changed for the Low Men? Have they gone into a new business, are still serving Flagg and the King? Are they still bad guys, or are they more neutral yet still people you don't want to mess with?

    I'm not asking for answers here, it's just an interesting question.

    More thoughts sooner or later (with any luck).

    ChrisC

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    1. Just to clarify - I don't see any similarity between the writing styles of Keillor and King. Only that "Ur" would be at home in the Prairie Home Companion's "Adventures for English Majors" series. (or whatever it's called - the ongoing examination of the silly things English majors preoccupy themselves with. Otherwise, yes, I think this is the right work to pair with 11/22/63. I love finding those, by the by - there's almost always a short story/ novella that points the way to one of the novels or vice versa. Written while the other was cooling the drawer, to use his On Writing metaphor.

      The Low Men here are clearly different from the Low Men elsewhere, aren't they? Is it intentional? Does it undermine their appearances elsewhere? My own answers, though you asked for none, to these questions are yes (well, this was more a rhetorical), probably, and not really. I agree it's an interesting question.

      "Ur" really gets my mind buzzing. To me, it's vintage King, as is "Mile 81." Fan service, perhaps, though I don't think so really, more like King serving the fan within himself.

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    2. I couldn't entirely account for the changes in the Low Men, but some King-fandom reflex insists that I put these new-style ones in the same mental category as the Yellow Card Man from "11/22/63." I can't justify that in any way; just how I think of them both.

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    3. Bryan,

      In terms of the silly things English Majors preoccupy themselves with, all 'm prepared to say is that I srill think one of the Rock Bottom Remainders (Dave Marsh) was at least somewhat justified in writing an entire scholarly work on the song "Louie, Louie" (yes, it turns out this actually happened). Otherwise, it is kind of weird that Keillor never considered becoming a remainder when he had the chance, isn't it?

      As for the Low Men, the two best scenarios are (1) they turned over a new leaf after the finak Tower book, or (2) the protagonist of "Ur" somehow found himself creating another "Inscape) (See Hill's N0S402 re: Inscapes for more on this).

      Personally, I tend toward something like the latter.

      Speaking of the Green Card Men, Lilja's Library showcased an article on the upcoming "63" miniseries.

      http://www.liljas-library.com/article.php?id=4671

      What's interesting to me about it is that it seems the director might be bringing in a bit more of the conspiracy angle, as opposed to the Lone Gunmen storyline that King wrote.

      Whether that's true or not, will have to see.

      ChrisC

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    4. Nice article. I'm excited to see this one.

      I like your Low Men suggestions. The idea of Keillor being a Rock Bottom Remainder is fantastic - it'd make a hell of a comedy. I can see Keillor really getting razzed by everyone else, and then trying to close the show with "Well it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown, up there on the edge of the prairie..." while everyone glared at him before breaking into "Louie, Louie."

      As a card-carrying member of the English Majors Who Preoccupy Themselves With Silly Things club, I tip my cap in Dave Marsh's direction.

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    5. I mean, why would you NOT write a scholarly essay on the subject of "Louie, Louie"?

      I'm looking forward to "11/22/63." Got a good feeling about that one. I suspect it's also going to be a big hit for Hulu. They're going to be getting a couple of months' worth of subscription from me, if nothing else.

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  9. I'd not bought the mass-market paperback of "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," but I saw it in the grocery store today and thought it'd make a good companion to my steaks, cat food, and potato chips. I'd been wanting to get a copy because it contains the story "Cookie Jar," which was previously only available in VQR.

    This isn't the first time King has inserted a bonus story into a paperback version of one of his collections. "Under the Weather" made its debut in the trade paperback of "Full Dark, No Stars." However, it was inserted into the end as a bonus story.

    It's a different story with "Cookie Jar," which is integrated into the book between "The Little Green God of Agony" and "That Bus Is Another World."

    This sort of thing causes fits among those of us who keep track of such things. Does it mean that "Cookie Jar" should be considered to have been collected, or not? My inclination is to say "not," unless the next collection comes along and does not include it.

    What say you?

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    1. I'd include it as part of "Bazaar," but with an asterisk.

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    2. An elegant solution. I will use it!

      Another instance of something similar to this: "The Revelations of 'becka Paulson" appeared in the limited edition of "Skeleton Crew," but never in a mass-market edition.

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