The King of Nightmares: Review of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

By Douglas Soule on November 19, 2015 from Book Review via

Carnivorous cars, magical Kindles, and death galore. What else can one expect from Stephen King’s newly released collection of short stories and poems?
The only thing that is bad about Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dream is that it had to end. While no nightmares disturbed my sleep during reading this book, it was written with the vivid, dream-like quality that Stephen King’s works often possesses. The possession scenes were gripping in their intensity and suspense. The comedic excerpts were humorous enough to force me to swallow an outburst of laughter.  Some parts were depressing. Some were exhilarating. This diversity in emotion kept my mind moving faster than a weather vane in a hurricane.
Not all the stories were terrifying. Not all were supposed to be. “Drunken Fireworks,” a story about a fireworks arms race between a redneck family and a rich one gone horribly wrong-- how else would it have ended?-- had me smiling enough that I thought my face would split in two. “Ur,” the tale of an interdimensional e-reader, could have been an utterly ridiculous piece. Instead, it delved into the mind of a man following a bitter break-up and later forced him into the extremes to change a future predicted by his Kindle.
Personally, my favorite stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams would have to be “The Dune”and “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation.” “The Dune”takes you into the mind of retired Supreme Court Judge Harvey Beecher. In the beginning, Beecher rows out to a dune, ignoring the aches from his elderly body. The dune reveals those who are destined to soon die, their names scrawled upon its sandy surface. One name is inscribed on the dune that day, and upon seeing it, Beecher meets with his lawyer so that his will can be drafted.
“Batman and Robin Have an Altercation”is truly something special, showing the grim reality of mental degeneration. Dougie Sanderson takes his father--who is cognitively-frayed by Alzheimer's--to Applebee's as a weekly tradition. He listens to his father’s rambles with an accustomed patience, occasionally butting in to remind him what his name--Dougie, not Reggie-- really is. As they depart from Applebee’s, the father's recollections of a past event become quite detailed. He remembers a time more than fifty years past, when he and Dougie went trick-or-treating as Batman and Robin. This remembrance is cut short, though, when an unfortunate altercation occurs, one which will test the bounds of the father and son’s relationship in a quite… violent way.
Stephen King provides an explanation for his inspirations in his writings. These sections of commentary provide not only a break between the stories, but also a sight into the life of one of the world’s most popular writers. In the modern era--and maybe all eras--people tend to exalt those who are famous, revering them as something more than a normal person.
Stephen King, who has earned tens of millions from his works, reminds us that this is not the case, at least not with him. With essay-length descriptions, he has given readers leeway to envision his entire life. This enhances the connection between reader and author, something which he explains in the introduction with, “... the writer and reader are not just having an affair; they are married.” While Mr. King isn’t really my type, I can see the point he is trying to make, and will not discredit him for his alleged affair with a sixteen-year-old.
Short stories and novellas usually do not garner as much popularity as the longer novels, but with this book it is proven that is not the size of the piece, but the utilization of plot, characters, and setting, that is important. Within two pages of the first story, “Mile 81,” I was immersed. An incredible feat, considering I’ve read boulder-sized epics, and by the end, my attention was still incongruous with the text before me. Yet in a far-fetched tale of a human-hungry station wagon, my hands clinched my Kindle screen--not a magical one, unfortunately-- with enough force to nearly shatter the glass.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams most likely won’t keep you up at night, nor will it inflict you with many nightmares after reading. It was marketed to appear as a strictly horror-based Stephen King flick, but that is simply not the case. For this, I am glad. In this collection of 20 fictional works--with some commentary in between--a sundry of emotions are experienced, and not just hair-raising, teeth-shattering fear. Within the pages, subjects such as morality, old age, and loss are found, found in ways not always anticipated.
There are a few bizarre moments in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, but they are juxtaposed with realities that are far too relatable for comfort. But if you expect comfort from Stephen King, in most cases you’ll feel quite dismayed by the outcome. As the man himself implies about his works, “The best of them have teeth.”

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