The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King / *****

imageThe only thing I may look forward to more than a new Stephen King novel is a new collection of his short stories. Yes, I love Stephen King, but even being a Constant Reader doesn’t prevent me from being willing to admit that the man can – and often does – go long on his word count. There’s something rewarding, then, to see King rein himself in, forcing himself to do as much as he can in a far lower number of words. Of course, this being King, that doesn’t rule out some longer pieces here – Ur was originally a novella released as a sort of trial balloon for the Kindle Singles program, and Blockade Billy as well was a small standalone novella previously released by King. Others are far shorter, including two brief poems both originally published in Playboy. But whatever the length, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams serves as a reminder of both King’s talent and prodigious gift, to say nothing of his stellar range. There’s the unsettling alien horror of “Mile 81,” the Raymond Chandler homage of “Premium Harmony,” the black comedy of “Drunken Fireworks,” the grim look at human nature of “Morality,” the haunting case of ruined dreams of “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive,” and so much more. Want deranged, insane narrators? Enjoy “Under the Weather.” Want a bizarre tale of a young child who seems to be evil incarnate? “Bad Little Kid” is for you. Want to read what feels like a mix between the climax of Revival and King’s stint in physical therapy? Oh, man, will “The Little Green God of Agony” scratch that itch and give you some nightmares to boot. But whatever the story, they’re all filled with King’s rich voice, his ability to evoke humanity in every character, and a keen eye about the world that always rings true. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, he tosses out the concluding story, “Summer Thunder,” which is a very different sort of story about the end of the world – one that’s far more beautiful and heartfelt than you might expect. All in all, it’s a fantastic collection, and if, like me, you’re initially disappointed that you’ve read a few already, well, trust me: they’re all worth reading again, and between King’s rich introductions and the revisions he’s made (mainly to Ur, but apparently to many), you’ll enjoy them all over again. It’s a great collection, and a reminder of what King can do, even without a broad canvas of pages to work on. 5


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