Though Halloween will soon be over, people can keep the ghostly holiday spirit alive long after Oct. 31 by picking up a copy of Stephen King’s newest collection of short stories: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, out Nov. 3.
I have to admit, I never made it all the way through a Stephen King work until this summer. Prior to that, the only book by the world-renowned author I’d ever dared to read was The Shining, which I was forced to give up on after about 50 pages. I’ve always been very enamored by the horror genre, both in literature and movies. Unfortunately, reading or watching anything even remotely scary usually results in me lying awake at night imagining I’m hearing someone break into my apartment or witnessing some terrifying apparition. As a 15-year-old, when I sensed the utter suspense in King’s writing before anything even slightly frightening happened, I shoved the book onto the highest shelf on my bookcase where I couldn’t even see it.
This summer, I decided to give King another whirl. I’m a great fan of the movie Misery and was keen to read the book. Luckily, this time I made it to the end, and though profoundly disturbed, I was not disappointed. For anyone who has never read King, his writing is rich and steeped in detail. The novel made the film version seem tame in comparison. The book used words that didn’t need loud music or visual stimuli to truly petrify me, which was an astounding feat. King truly has the ability to build tension with the prowess of a clear master. As such, I expect his new collection will be nothing short of excellent. The book of stories are ones he has written throughout his career, some of which have been published, but many are new to readers. One of my favorite aspects is that each one is prefaced by a short passage by King explaining why he wrote the story and where his inspiration for it came from. As a writer myself, I love this detail, which allows readers to understand how the first idea sparked in the author’s brain and how the story came to life.
As for the stories themselves, they promise to be both provocative and chilling. In “Obits,” a newspaper columnist murders people through writing their obituaries. Some are wacky as well as ominous, such as “Mile 81,” about a carnivorous station wagon. Death is a prominent theme throughout the novel, not just as tropes of the horror genre but also as existential thoughts and commentary. For example, “Premium Harmony” takes readers through the perspective of the protagonist, Ray Burkett. King reveals Burkett’s thought processes as his wife dies of a heart attack and then his dog dies shortly afterward.
Similarly, in “Morality,” King explores concepts of conscience and death through a decrepit former reverend who asks his nurse to commit a sin for him. Never having been able to live a life of sin, he wishes to finally give up his innocence. Unable to walk or leave his house, he wants to experience sin through his nurse. The story highlights the nurse and her husband’s feelings of guilt. It also underlines the struggle between the desire for a better life and the morally questionable actions to achieve that ideal.
Some stories are downright creepy, such as “The Dune,” which is told in flashbacks from an old man who recounts canoeing to an island. The man finds a boy whose name is one of many written in the sand. These people later die in a series of freak accidents.
I am excited for the mixture of scary and more introspective stories in this collection. It seems as though it will bear all of King’s famed skill and suspense and will also prompt readers to consider some interesting questions about life, death, guilt and desire. So far, they have received largely positive reviews. I am often drawn to novels rather than short stories. With novels, it’s easier to immerse myself completely in another world and getting to know other characters in a way that only a novel can offer. Still, between juggling many different responsibilities, I can’t be the only one who struggles to find time to read novels for pleasure during school time. As such, short stories provide the perfect opportunity to experience wonderful writing and captivating plots, without having to commit a lot of time. Add to that the spirit and excitement surrounding Halloween, something Americans truly take to a new level, and this collection becomes the perfect way to read something quick, artfully crafted and, of course, completely frightening.
Kirsten Greenwood is a sophomore majoring in English. Her column, “By the Book,”
runs every Friday.