Stephen King's Bazaar of Bad Dreams deals in smart, scary yarns

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      The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
      By Stephen King. Scribner, 495 pp, hardcover 

      Once again, Stephen King doesn’t disappoint with his latest release, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of satisfying and frightening short stories. In it, King tackles familiar themes of morality, faith, marriage, and the afterlife, among others. However, King packages these concepts in his special brand of twisted fiction that preys on our worst fears incarnate.

      King opens the book with the sinister “Mile 81”, a tale about a paranormal station wagon that eats all those who dare to come near it. Yes, that sounds campy, but as usual with King, there’s more lurking under the surface then than this description suggests. In “Morality”, a married couple enter into a deal with the devil, with seemingly no risks involved; after the act is committed, things take a turn for the macabre. Other standouts include “The Little Green God of Agony”, an examination of the definition of faith (King’s version comes in the form of a nasty little critter that feeds on human suffering), and the lonely “Summer Thunder”, an end-of-the-world yarn that’s both sweet and sad at the same time.

      Nevertheless, the book is not without some filler, and even most of King’s diehard readers would have a hard time defending some of the stories included in his latest release. “Blockade Billy” is a tiresome account of a fictional 1950s baseball team, with little payoff for the reader. The mundane “Premium Harmony” tries too hard to be something it’s not, and the disjointed “Tommy” is seemingly one character’s rambling monologue dressed up as a short story. In other words: nothing to read here, move along to the next one.

      That being said, there are a lot of other smart and scary stories here that more than make up for the disappointing few. Plus, at this point in his career, King should get a literary “free play”; after all, the man is in his late 60s and escaped a near-death incident in 1999, when he was hit by a van while out walking near his home in Maine. Anything he’s written since that near-tragic experience should be viewed as a treasure. Of course, that is not an excuse for the author to release subpar material; fortunately, the majority of the 30 stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams are solid.

      Lastly, instead of his usual musings at the back of the book, with The Bazaar of Bad Dreams King provides a few tasty nuggets of detail and inspiration to preface each individual story, thus making each meal more enjoyable. However, as he states in the introduction to the book, “the best of them have teeth.” In other words, be careful when you consume them, as some of them may bite back.