Ask many people to name Stephen King’s occupation and they’d say “novelist.” And they’d be wrong.
Yes, King has written a library’s worth of novels, some of them topping 1,000 pages. But he’s also written hundreds of short stories — enough to make The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, new from Scribner, his 10th such collection. And short stories, I’d argue, are clearly among his narrative strengths, especially in his beloved horror genre.
As King himself says in the book, “There’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience.”
I agree. The Stand may be a page-turner, but that’s too many pages to turn in one riveting experience. “A Death,” on the other hand, which is one of Bazaar’s most compelling reads, clocks in at 14 pages.
In short (no pun), King at heart is a storyteller, and stories can be any length — including the quick payoffs of a 14-pager.
There, that’s my King definition: a storyteller who keeps inviting us to his literary campfire. And that status is only reinforced by this entertaining array of 18 short stories and two narrative poems, whose brevity doesn’t leave you short-changed: The book clocks in at 495 pages.
Some of those pages are King’s brief prefaces to his tales, as he conversationally addresses us, his “Constant Readers,” to place them in perspective, reveal their origins and cite their literary inspirations. (King also is adept when writing about writing, as these intros reaffirm.)
One of his favorites and mine is the opening “Mile 81,” a story he’d penned at college 40 years earlier, then lost, then penned again. You could call it a spinoff plotwise of Christine, except this yarn about a shape-shifting alien devourer in the form of a mud-splattered car came first.
Less grisly but more haunting is “Bad Little Kid,” about an evil prankster who just might be a devil, if not the devil, while “The Dune” has a finishing kick — make that twist — worthy of an old EC horror comic.
All combine to make The Bazaar of Bad Dreams another fascinating, disturbing and ultimately satisfying King short-story collection, up there even with the longer tales collected in my personal favorite, Full Dark, No Stars.
So thanks again, Stephen. You’ve made my day — while haunting my nights.
— Bruce Westbrook