Ooooooh #bookjunkies!! Back from a brief hiatus, it is Scottydog with one of his unique reviews to keep us entertained this eve! Today it is Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams!
A generous collection of thrilling stories – some brand new, some published in magazines, all entirely brilliant and assembled in one book for the first time – with a wonderful bonus: in addition to his introduction to the whole collection, King gives readers a fascinating introduction to each story with autobiographical comments on their origins and motivation…
In THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS there is a curio for every reader – a man who keeps reliving the same life, repeating the same mistakes over and over again, a columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries, a poignant tale about the end of the human race and a firework competition between neighbours which reaches an explosive climax. There are also intriguing connections between the stories; themes of morality, guilt, the afterlife and what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past.
Scottydog’s Rating: 5/5
OK, OK, I admit it – and now that I’m in my forties, I’m not proud of it.
If my grave is as shallow as my soul was when I was in my twenties, when I die they will simply lay me on top of the ground.
She was lovely. Really lovely. The kind of girl that the phrase ‘punching above your weight’ was no doubt made for. And it wasn’t as if we worked together, exactly – my office was on the third floor and she worked in the admin office on the ground floor, so we could keep things low key, and if things didn’t quite work out it’s not like we’d be bumping into each other all the time. What could possibly go wrong?
And so it started the way it often does. An e-mail sent with an admin query . . . yes, it was work related and quite necessary, but informal and witty enough for her to know it was sent by a human being who might actually be a fun guy, and not simply another office drone whose soul was slowly being eroded by routine.
The return e-mail was just as witty but with the obligatory ‘smilie face’ at the end, and after a week of back and forth banter she was signing each one with a little ‘x.’ Get in! So after the week of electronic flirting and shameless misrepresentation of each others characters, my occasional visits to the admin office were the highlights of my soul destroying week. I’m thankful that my work e-mail account was never monitored, and that the masses of stationary supplies I was bringing up from the ground floor was never questioned either.
One week turned into two, and the e-mails were soon replaced by text messages on Nokia 3310s . . . the world just wasn’t ready for the Iphone in 2001, and Facebook was a mere glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, but the 3310 was the phone to have. So in the absence of picture messages and posting witty motivational pics on walls, we had to text.
If I was an Anthony Robbins type self help guru and personal development coach, the extent of my relationship advice would probably be along the lines of, “Always be yourself – except in a job interview, the first few months of a relationship, or any social interaction. Oh, and if he’s bad in bed, make him buy adam and eve cock rings so he’ll last longer.” And that’s exactly what we did, in those first few weeks of getting to know each other. We lied, we exagerated, we embelleshed, we took credit for witticisms that weren’t our own. We swapped funny holiday stories, slated our exes, had late night ‘deep and meaningfuls’ and basically tested the compatability of the other. And so far so good.
So far so good, that is, until we came to do our ‘top fives.’
You might not realise this, ladies, (Mrs Scottydog is only just starting to get to grips with it) but this type of thing is actually important to us guys. If we go to a friend’s house, Mrs S will immediately covet the kitchen island and insist that we get one. She’ll be going gaga over the Aga, extolling the virtues of a south facing conservatory, or gasping in wonder at the beauty of the solid parquet flooring.
Me? If I’m not in the kitchen playing with the dog, you can be damn sure I’m ignoring the feature wall, and I’m checking out your collections instead. That’s right, Crime Book Junkies, I will be scanning your book, music and DVD collections and, dammit, actually JUDGING you! I will be forming an opinion on you, possibly an unfair and self righteous one at that too, based on whether you have favoured Suzie Quatro over Stevie Nicks, Dire Straits over Status Quo, Chris Rea over Clapton, and heaven help our friendship if the number of 90s garage albums owned exceeds the prescribed limit. Do your DVDs star geniuses like John Cussack, Kevin Spacey and Denzel Washington . . . or are you a fan of Hugh Grant? Believe me, I’m making mental notes. (Mental note to self – actual notes work better).
And so it was that on the day I had decided would be the day I’d go for the ‘do you fancy meeting up outside of work’ conversation, that said conversation kicked off with our ‘top fives.’ And as she claimed to be a kindred spirit and fellow movie, music and book buff, I thought I’d be in for a treat. But it wasn’t to be, Crime Book Junkies . . . what could have been a beautiful relationship never even got off the starting blocks thanks to ‘Miss Congeniality’ being her number 1 all-time favourite movie. Looking back, I suppose I should have been thankful it wasn’t ‘Daddy Day-Care.’
So I turned and ran. Not just out of the door and down the corridor, but for the hills. I ran for the hills and didn’t look back, ditching 3310s along the way. The Gospel according to Facebook shows her alive and well and living in Guildford with a husband and two kids. Well played. I genuinely hope they have many a happy family night in infront of Sandra Bullock and co.
So as a book reviewer for CBJ, my frequent conversations with fellow book worms has made me see the error of my ways – well, my conversations with book SNOBS would be more accurate. In Andy Green’s interview for ‘Rolling Stone,’ he said to Stephen King, ‘By writing horror novels, you entered one of the least respected genres of fiction.’
‘Yeah,’ King replied, ‘It’s one of the genres that live across the tracks in the literary community, but what could I do? That’s where I was drawn.’
That’s a pretty good description of the horror genre. Certainly, when I mention Stephen King to some of my bookish pals the name elicits an eye roll with a kind of ‘ugh’ sound, followed by a comment like, “Stephen King? Isn’t that, like, horror?”
His books are classed as horror, fantasy and science fiction. So to be fair, I kinda see why that would put alot of CrimeBookJunkies off. Some people say that King is a horror writer, but I would argue that. You really can’t pigeon hole this guy. He doesn’t write pure horror – he writes about the darker side of human nature. And those stories he churns out that do have a healthy dose of the supernatural or creepy, are done in such a superb way, minus what, to many authors, might be literary suicide – no daft, green creatures shambling out of the lagoon, arms outstretched and making moaning noises. Hell no. Just tight, well crafted novels with a strong leaning towards the flaws in the human character. Recently, President Obama draped a National Medal of the Arts around the neck of Stephen King. “One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time,” the President said, “Mr. King combines his remarkable storytelling with his sharp analysis of human nature.” Don’t tell this to the US Secret Service, but I’m not Obama’s biggest fan. Still, I can’t argue with his accurate description of King’s skills. If you want cliched trite for the masses then look no further than James Patterson, who seems to churn them out on the ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap principle.’ Call me picky, but I’ll go for quality any day. And King sure has that quality.
So let’s cut to the chase, CrimeBookJunkies . . . how the blazes do you review a collection of short stories like King’s latest venture, Bazaar Of Bad Dreams? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. I mean, surely a reviewer can’t be expected to take each and every one and do an in-depth critique of every story? In this case that would be, er, 20 reviews. I suppose the bottom line, as with any book review, are the questions, ‘Is the damn book any good, and why should I read it?’
Simple answer to a simple question – hell yes, the book is good. In fact, it’s excellent. Not only is each short story terrific in it’s own right, but the book as a whole makes you think, ‘Man, how does this guy DO this? Where do these ideas come from, and how does he put them into words like this? The guy must be a wizzard or something.’
There is a very distinct theme running through this collection. Death, afterlife, call it what you will. But in true King style it’s his very own, unique take on the subject, with a clear ommission of what would naturally be expected. OK, a horror writer and death – cue teen slasher movies, serial killers, and the odd green monster here and there, going on a human-devouring rampage.
Really? Come on, CrimeBookJunkies, we know each other well enough by now, and we know to expect far more from King. A trite cliche, I know, but with King you really DO have to expect the unexpected. Readers of my reviews will know I don’t like spoilers, but let me throw some bait in the water, just to tempt you a bit. So here goes . . . a guy and his wife are driving somewhere with their dog in the car, and at a rest stop both the wife and the dog die . . . and the guy really isn’t that bothered at all. In fact, is it the release he’s been waiting for? Or what about the polar opposite, the guy who loves his wife so much that even after she dies he can’t quite let her go, or even acknowledge that she is dead . . . and the smell from the apartment is starting to upset the neighbours. And what would you do yourself, fellow reader and CrimeBookJunkie, if you were in a taxi en route to an important job interview, and the taxi pulled up next to a bus . . . you look into the bus window just as a man on the bus makes eye contact with you, and slits his fellow passenger’s throat. Your taxi goes one way, the bus goes the other . . . and you still have that all important job interview to get to (gotta put food on the table, afterall). So yeah, the theme running through all the stories is death . . . but death in the context of the darker side of the human character. You hit the nail on the head, Mr President – death, interwoven with a sharp analysis of human nature.
So if you are an avid CrimebookJunkie with a particular penchant for Brit crime, and you turn your nose up at the mere suggestion of a horror / fantasy writer . . . I get it. I really do. But Stephen King has been unfairly branded, and to miss out on what this guy produces is to miss out on one of the best writers of our time. You don’t want to dive head-on into a full-fat, high-tar, calorie rich King novel? Fine – don’t. But do yourself a favour – allow yourself to start with his short stories. Dip into them at random, choose which one to read next based on how the title grabs you . . . hell, take a look at your watch, decide that you are short on time that day and go with the one with the least number of pages. But just for once, don’t make the same mistake I did – forgive Sandra Bullock for Miss Congeniality. Some of her other stuff isn’t half bad. Put book snobbery aside, and dip your toe cautiously into some new water.
King’s introduction to Bazaar of Bad Dreams is fair warning. ‘I made them especially for you’, says King. ‘Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.’
And that they do. As an avid King fan, I’d say that some of his best short stories are to be found in this collection. Teeth and all.
5 stars. Enjoy.
Another cracker ScottyDog…and let’s be clear…THIS CrimeBookJunkie absolutely loves Stephen King!! Click the link below to visit your own Bazaar of Bad Dreams folks!
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00V3KJZHU]