Tracing Trails : The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams
The last short story collection.
I would be lying that while I am looking forward to being done with the stress of making sure my reading is outpacing the reviews, I am sad to be moving on from this project. So for the short stories, we are signing off with 2015’s book, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams.
The release of this book seemed to be with both fanfare and grumbling. Some celebrated King’s return to a medium he had done so well in. Others were put off that nearly every story, including the novellas had already been released separately. The biggest stories in terms of size in this volume would be UR, Blockade Billy and Mile 81, all of which were available before the release of Bazaar.
In King’s defense at least somewhat, the stories that were reprinted did get additional revision before being released. Also, with most of them, the stories weren’t available in print form so while it might be splitting hairs, Bazaar at least made the stories available across all formats. Of course I can’t deny the disappointment felt by fans who, upon seeing the release of a new King book realized that they had already read most of the content.
As for me, with the exception of UR, I hadn’t read any of the stories before. So for me, I got to enjoy these for the first time. I suspect this issue is going to hold different water for different people. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fairly common practice for authors to compile stories they have published in magazines and anthologies. All of King’s previous collections featured primarily stories he had published previously. So while I can see the point somewhat, I also don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Whether or not a story is completely new and never seen the light of day or not, there is always going to be a new audience for that material.
To me, it seems like the advent of the Kindle and digital technology is a big factor here. When King published Night Shift, the only way you could have read any of those stories previously would be if you happened to have come across a physical copy of one of the periodicals who had published them. Now, all you need is a search engine. His short stories are much more accessible than they used to be so bringing them to press in a compiled book isn’t as big of an event.
One aspect to these stories that I thought held up better than some of the previous collections was that they felt much more polished and put together. In some of the more recent books, King’s short stories have sometimes had a feel of gasping to a stop, and I thought he could have done maybe a better job finding a button to end on. With Bazaar however, I rarely got to the end of the story feeling somewhat puzzled, wondering what the point was. There was a definite arc going on through most of these stories and for the most part, I enjoyed them.
While I enjoyed most of the stories here, there were some standouts. In no particular order.
Of the novellas in Bazaar, this was definitely my favorite. Blockade Billy was entertaining on some level, likely from my own love of baseball but it was kind of straight-forward, a bit on the bland side. I read UR when it was originally released, exclusively for the kindle and reading it now, I had pretty much the same reaction. It was okay but also just seemed like kind of a long setup for a Dark Tower tie-in moment.
Mile 81 started out amazing. For a while, I thought that it was like taking King’s novel, From A Buick 8 and reducing it down to the core, essential premise of the story. It was like picking out the scariest parts and stripping away all the unnecessary story-telling around them. What we were left with was this terrifying demon car that destroys anything that comes near it. I loved the way King broke the story up into little vignettes as victim after victim blunders into their own deaths. The scenes were brutal and the descriptions were definitely reminiscent of classic era King.
The story isn’t without its flaws. The main character is introduced at the beginning of the story but then vanishes for a significant chunk of the story. That might fly with Tolkien, but not so much in this context. King eventually returns the kid to the fold but it would have been nice to see him around more throughout. Also, while the pacing of the story is awesome and the bleak situation of the characters was perfectly done, it does all kind of build up to an ending that was a little too clean for my taste. Things just seemed to wrap up a little too nicely for me and I think I would have preferred seeing the last few scenes worked out a bit longer. At the very least, I thought the conclusion to the tale needed a few more sharp edges to it.
Still, there is a lot to love and despite not caring for how it finished, I’m crazy-happy about the rest.
Easily my favorite story from the book and might be a contender for my favorite King short story of the new Millennium. Although I have started to feel some fatigue in regards to zombies, I do still love some good post-apocalyptic fiction. Summer Thunder is a perfect example of a powerful story that doesn’t have to expend a ton of energy explaining everything to the reader. The world has been essentially destroyed in a nuclear war. The protagonist of the story is one of the lone survivors, along with a dog he has taken in. The only other character we see is a nearby neighbor who he visits every day.
The thing I love about the story is the creeping sense of dread you get as the story progresses and you realize that beyond the actual bombs going off, these people are now forced to deal with the reality of radiation sickness and the likelihood of eventual death. I can’t say much else without spoiling the specifics but King brings some serious emotional impact to this story. It’s beautiful and tragic, all at the same time and it builds up to a spectacular ending. Anyone who thinks that short stories don’t have enough time or space to reach the reader should check out this one.
By the way, if you want to play the game of connecting threads and finding similarities, I think this story could function as a sort of followup to King’s short story, Graduation Afternoon. You can find it in the collection previous to this, Just After Sunset.
THAT BUS IS ANOTHER WORLD
Looking at this from a practical perspective, very little happens in this story. A traveler is on his way to New York City for an important business meeting. As he arrives at the airport, we watch as he hits delay after delay and the comfortable time cushion he had for himself slowly begins to deteriorate. Then, in the process of waiting in the back of his cab, he happens to glance over at the bus next to him and what he sees is pretty shocking.
Despite this, the story carries a lot with it. First, there is the experience of sitting alongside the protagonist and imagining what it would be like to witness something yourself. It’s a reminder that at any given moment in our lives, there’s always the potential for some unknown danger to pop up and reveal itself to you in violent, horrifying fashion. I also love that King provides no context or explanation for the violence that the protagonist witnesses. In my opinion, not understanding the reason for something makes the fear of the situation that much higher. We generally try to avoid dangerous situations in our day-to-day lives but if we don’t even understand what made a particular encounter dangerous, how are we supposed to protect ourselves?
On another level, there is also a moral question here that I thought made the story effective. It’s the old, what would you do scenario? If you were the sole witness to an act of violence, what would you do? Would you speak up or try to get help for the person? Would you call the authorities and try to alert police? What if you were on the way to a potentially career-changing meeting that could turn your life around? What if there was nothing really you could do to help the person? Would there be any circumstances that would make it okay to turn your back on someone in need of help?
This story shocks and makes you think. Fantastic stuff.
BAD LITTLE KID
Another great venture into the supernatural with this one. A lawyer is interviewing his client, a man (George Hallas) who is sitting on death row for the murder of a child. Hallas tells a story about repeated sightings of a young kid who seems to be constantly taunting him and who always seems to appear on the brink of some kind of tragedy. Of course no one else seems to be aware of the kid’s existence and as Hallas gets older, the encounters seem to get more dangerous and violent as the kid even starts to communicate with Hallas.
The story is frightening enough but also contains scenes that are pretty shocking, bringing me back to the early years of King’s career when his books seemed to have more of a take no prisoners approach. It’s the kind of thing that is disturbing but at the same time you can’t help but keep on reading because you have to understand. I love that the story starts off with a feel of being a bit absurd and innocent and progressively gets darker and more frightening. The point in the story where Hallas reveals what he did to get himself on death row is chilling to read.
And of course, in fine King fashion, the story winds down to an ending that is pretty chilling and dark.
UNDER THE WEATHER
One last one I’ll gush about here. This was a bit of a gnarly one when you consider the reveal at the end. The character at the center of the story is Brad, who is caring for his wife who has been sick for some time, feeling under the weather. I don’t want to say much about the story as this is a fun one to unravel for yourself. But it all moves forward to an ending that is tragic and disturbing. I think it is also a great study of the mental outlook of this character and how he can delude himself into seeing what he wants. I suppose on some level, this story speaks to the intense levels of love and devotion that Brad feels towards his wife but it all manifests in a pretty brutal fashion.
In the end, I suppose I would say that if this ends up being King’s last collection of short stories, I think he gave us a pretty good sendoff. I still wouldn’t place this ahead of the likes of Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. But it’s definitely a step up from Nightmares & Dreamscapes. I would probably even rank it above Just After Sunset and slightly above Everything’s Eventual. It’s a great collection of stories that I had no trouble making through in quick fashion. This is one that you shouldn’t pass up.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader
Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page