The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King


Review by Chris Fox

Stephen King has been active in the writing game long enough that a fourth generation of readers is discovering his books. With respect to his more recent novels, the argument could be made (and has been made) that his best work is long behind him. In response, I would give holders of that opinion the hefty new collection of King’s shorter work, the appropriately titled The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. It demonstrates conclusively that King still knows how to spin a heck of a yarn while also creating some of the best work of his career.

These 18 stories (and two longer poems) were published between 2009 and 2015, with the exception of “Obits,” which is seeing the light of day here for the first time. The sources range from the obscure (Granta Journal, Tin House) to the self-styled literary (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Monthly) and points in between. There are two epic poems from Playboy and two stories that originally saw life as audiobooks and eBooks.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams kicks off with a strong winner bearing the deceptively simple title of “Mile 81.” It’s a novella, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a longer shorter work, and King fits a lot into the story without making it bulge. You have Good Samaritans, a kid who is some place he shouldn’t be, a couple of children in peril, a wonderfully frightening and unknowable menace, and some victims. You will never be able to drive past a highway rest stop or exit — deserted or otherwise — without thinking of “Mile 81” and that mud-covered car.

Then we have “Ur”. The story concerns an English professor at a mediocre university who reluctantly purchases a Kindle, receives a pink one (they only came in white at the time), and discovers that he can purchase stories that were never written in this reality by his favorite authors. It can do a bit more, though, and with fateful consequences. It’s an unforgettable story, lightly told but powerfully memorable.

King also makes a return to the Western genre (what was The Dark Tower series, particularly the first few books, if not a Western?) in “A Death”. It’s a tale of a rush to rough justice and is one of the best pieces of short Western fiction I have read. And for those who don’t consider King to be a “serious” author, try “That Bus Is Another World” or the dead-on brilliant “Premium Harmony,” both of which put me strongly in the mind of John Cheever, particularly the latter. These two very different stories illustrate how life is made of moments and how quickly and irrevocably things can change. Or don’t.

While Night Shift remains my favorite collection of King’s short stories, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of these recent tales I enjoyed. As an added bonus, each story features an introduction by the author himself. Highly recommended!

Chris Fox is a Reference Assistant at May Memorial Library. Contact him at: cfox@alamancelibraries.org