Yes, I would probably get drummed out of Basic English by starting out with using a cliché like ‘a mixed bag’; but if it’s accurate, well…
And that’s what this collection of short stories is. I’m always going to drop in to see what Uncle Steve has to say and sometimes I’m disappointed; but let’s be honest, for a guy who turns out the sheer volume of words and stories that King does, that is barely one time out of ten. There are not many authors who have a record like King for just getting his hook into you and keeping that barbed thing there until you’ve finished.
He can be a shyster and a conman and he can disgust you just for the sake of disgusting you; but what he needs most of all is for you to buy his wares and enjoy his tales. He’s an old-timer sitting at some idealized bonfire where all he wants to do is entertain kids – and maybe scare the bejeezus out of them a little.
Of course, these days that would be likely to get him arrested as some kind of grooming Chester the Molester; but that’s the world we live in now.
Justin Bieber’s Head as a Dartboard
With The Bazaar of Bad Dreams he hits the ground running with a cracking forty-page tale called Mile 81 that takes us into very familiar territory. Yes, it’s an evil and alien thing that just happens to look like a car – you know, like that perfect horror called Christine or the artifact from the bafflingly under rated From a Buick 8 – and the long-time King fan will just feel plain comfortable as he slips into this old garment.
It also features one of his heartbreakingly realistic children. And yeah, I know that I shouldn’t be applauding a scene where a ten-year-old gets drunk on a bottle of vodka he’s found; but I swear, at half-one in the morning I was laughing my head off as the kid thinks of Justin Bieber’s annoying face being used as a dart board and has a suggestion for a song the Beeb might sing that involves his girlfriend’s shaved pussy.
That’s King all over. Startles you into helpless but guilty laughter in the middle of what is a really creepy story.
(Mind you, some people find my sense of humour not very funny in any case. I nearly cracked up last week when I heard the one about the man who married a television — but the reception was awful.)
I won’t go through all eighteen of the stories — and two poems, about which the less said the better — but you get the feeling that each and every one of them is important to King, that they really are his babies, in a way. The problem is that I’m one of those guys who completely loathes having somebody shove a photograph of their supposedly cute sprog in my face and be expected to goo-goo, gaa-gaa over it; and I was a bit like that with some of these.
Just a random selection:
The Dune was a quietly atmospheric little piece and for a moment I thought it was going to be as creepy as Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows; but although I don’t think it was the intention, the protagonist comes across to me as an utter shit; and the ending isn’t half as much of a surprise as King seems to think it is.
Blockade Billy was a surprise to me since it heavily features baseball and I was born without a single sporting gene. It does have a very memorable psycho, though; and it bears out the author’s contention that if the story is there then you will keep reading, no matter the subject.
Morality is genuinely disturbing, especially if circumstances have seen you falling short of your own standards when it came to making an ethical choice. And I wonder which of us can look in the mirror and say that we always behaved as we would have wished to.
Most of the stories in this 2015 collection appeared previously in magazines of various kinds.
Death, Demons and Drunkenness
Ur was a short eBook written to advertise Kindle. And when I copped that I felt a bit like I did when I saw Robert De Niro advertising American Express – you know, back before I realised that there was nothing whatsoever that the once-great actor would do and no crap role he would refuse as long as there was a pay check at the end of his humiliation.
As it turned out, I’m actually willing to accept King’s explanation for his whorish behavior and the story is pretty good – at least until it wanders into the territory of his Dark Tower fantasy sequence. That, though, is a subjective view since I’ve never been able to get into that series.
Mister Yummy…oh, what do I say about this one? That it’s about facing up to our own deaths? That it’s beautiful and disturbing? Yes and yes and yes; and inexplicably I found myself in tears when I finished it. And that doesn’t happen too often.
So there is really good stuff like that; or Obits (about a guy who can kill people by writing their obituaries – the sort of super-power I would really like to have); and there’s the very creepy Bad Little Kid. I’ll let you work out this one from the title. Or the stone cold horror of the The Little Green God of Agony.
And less enticingly there’s really awful bore-fests like Drunken Fireworks, which features a pair of characters who come across pretty much as parodies of King’s redneck-types.
Best of all are the chatty little asides that Stephen King introduces each tale with and make me once again think about how great it would be to have a beer with him.
Look: if you’re not already an admirer of the man, then this one is not going to turn you onto him; if you are, then you’ll find enough to enjoy in this ‘mixed bag’ to make letting those moths fly out of your wallet, blinking in the light, worthwhile.