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Will Stephen King give you night­mares?

re­leased 3 Novem­ber 484 pages | Hard­back/ Ebook

Au­thor Stephen King

Pub­lisher Hod­der & Stoughton

He’s been a best­selling au­thor since the ’ 70s, there have been end­less film and TV adap­ta­tions of his work – but if you want real proof of the achieve­ments of Stephen King, sim­ply look at his short sto­ries. In a literary world where one of the few iron­clad rules is that short sto­ries don’t make money, King is still able to bring out best­selling col­lec­tions of de­mon­i­cally grip­ping tales, and his latest re­lease is another bumper crop of sharp, well- crafted fic­tion.

The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams col­lects to­gether 17 works pub­lished over the last six years with three pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished pieces, and fol­lows the pat­tern King has evolved over his ca­reer, mix­ing old- fash­ioned sus­pense to­gether with more char­ac­ter­ful, literary ex­plo­rations. De­spite his Master of Hor­ror man­tle, King has al­ways been hap­pi­est when veer­ing from genre to genre, and while the re­sults here are oc­ca­sion­ally a lit­tle vari­able, he’s still able to land knock­out blows when it counts.

The tales that nat­u­rally grab the at­ten­tion are the old- school, tra­di­tional King sto­ries like “The Lit­tle Green God Of Agony”, in which a faith healer tries to prove that pain is caused by de­mons, and “Mile 81”, where a shape- chang­ing crea­ture in the form of a car lurks in wait at an aban­doned ve­hi­cle rest stop. “Bad Lit­tle Kid” plays with the con­cept of a purely evil child by telling the story of a man hounded by an un­stop­pable neme­sis, while “Obits” ex­plores what hap­pens when an online colum­nist dis­cov­ers his mean­spir­ited fic­tional obituaries have started com­ing true.

The most sat­is­fy­ing of all of these is “Ur”, the long­est story in the col­lec­tion, the in­ven­tive tale of a col­lege pro­fes­sor who ac­ci­den­tally ac­quires an e- reader that can ac­cess books from par­al­lel uni­verses. The fi­nale sees King util­is­ing ideas that would later find their way into his time travel saga 11- 22- 63, and other pre­vi­ous King works are some­times ref­er­enced or echoed across the sto­ries ( such as the moody Western tale “A Death”, which is par­tially rem­i­nis­cent of The Green Mile).

It’s in some of the col­lec­tion’s qui­eter sto­ries that King re­ally gets to show­case his fa­cil­ity with char­ac­ter, and his writ­ing is of­ten at its most emo­tion­ally dev­as­tat­ing here. There’s a greater em­pha­sis on mor­tal­ity and the ac­cu­mu­la­tive ef­fects of age­ing across these sto­ries ( many of which are non- genre), but while the ef­fects are of­ten very mov­ing, there’s no dan­ger of King get­ting sen­ti­men­tal in his old age. His fic­tion still packs an im­pres­sive punch, from the bleak ex­plo­ration of how amoral be­hav­iour can wreck lives in “Moral­ity”, to the melan­choly apoca­lypse of “Sud­den Thun­der”.

Ad­mit­tedly, not all of King’s ex­per­i­ments come off. Un­ex­pected sports drama tan­gent in “Block­ade Billy” is fun but may test the pa­tience of any­one who’s not a base­ball fan, while the in­clu­sion of two works of po­etry (“The Bone Church” and “Tommy”) feels over- in­dul­gent. King also pro­vides in­tro­duc­tions to the sto­ries; these are en­ter­tain­ing, but give away a lit­tle too much, los­ing some of the sense of dis­cov­ery these col­lec­tions can of­ten bring.

These few weak­nesses aside, the over­all stan­dard re­mains re­mark­ably high, and King’s sto­ry­telling in­stincts are as ra­zor sharp as ever. De­spite be­ing in his late six­ties he’s show­ing no signs of slow­ing down his fe­ro­ciously pro­lific out­put, and The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams is yet more proof that there are few writ­ers out there who can match him. Saxon Bul­lock

The over­all stan­dard is high

“The Lit­tle Green God Of Agony” was adapted into a 24- page we­b­comic for King’s web­site: http:// bit. ly/ lit­tle­green­web.

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