Stephen King's The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, his newest collection of short stories. So far, grade is a B-.
Stephen King gives great short story. But this collection ain’t his greatest.
Well, first we can mention that in this collection SK prefaces each story with a page or two of expo, or, as my jaundiced writerly eye is wont to term it, “caveats.” Sometimes this information is interesting, as SK explains where he got the idea for a story from, but mostly it’s irrelevant and distracting and seems like SK just wanted room to pontificate a little bit and since he’s SK, his publisher let him. Frankly it’s both unnecessary and unprofessional, but SK’s a god, so I see why they let him do it. Also, each short story ends with a little dedication (weird to go at the end), which for everyone not in the loop (read: almost everyone reading) just…doesn’t do anything whatsoever, adds no meaning to the story, and again, prevents the reader from a full immersion.
Also, not all the stories in the collection are new, which I didn’t realize. Silver lining: the ones that aren’t new to publication in the volume have been substantially edited and so read like familiar but somewhat still-new stories. However, major sadness: most of the stories in this collection, and so far this collection as a whole, simply don’t have the power, the force, the get-in-your-mind-and-stay-there-to-think-over-for-years, that his best stories and collections do – I’m thinking “Nightmares and Dreamscapes,” which is my favorite SK short story collection by far, or even “Night Shift,” or similar.
That being said there have been two stories that I read which came across so strongly that I had to stop for full moments and let them sink in afterwards, before I could read more. One of those stories nearly had me in tears. So the SK genius/power is still there, it’s still kicking – they’re just not all winners in this volume. And there’s a lot of departure from the horror in which SK really does excel, which I think is part of the problem.
None of these stories is “Crouch End” or even “Room 1408” or the eponymous “Night Shift.” But they’re still real, and they’re still good. I can’t fault the old man if he’s run down the engine a bit in his late years – that engine has been hot and firing steady for a long, long time. (After I finish this and his novel “Finders Keepers,” which I’m also nearly done with, I’m going to dig up my copy of “Christine” and scratch an urge to revisit that story which I have had for months.)
Edit: For what it's worth, I think SK of all people in the modern writing world has done amazing things for and with short story. SK is how I even learned to appreciate the short story in modern literature. He insists on putting out volumes of them even though they don't sell (publishers hate them) and by god his volumes of shorts are worthwhile, and convincing - they do demonstrate what is so powerful and great and vital and important about the form. SK deserves a LOT of credit and kudos for that. I am thrilled he is still putting 'em out there.