Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

This entry is part 54 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

This is going to be difficult.

I know I keep saying this but I’m now nine blogs behind. I’ve read so many words since putting down the subject of today’s review, I’m no longer able to recall what happened.

Usually, this is fine. Last time we looked at Ari Gold, and who cares I’d read a thousand books since and couldn’t remember a word of it? I just had to make something up.


But today that won’t fly. Today I’m sitting down to review a big stonking Stephen King book.

All King books have plenty going on, so that’s hard enough. But if this was a novel I could talk about standard Kingisms, like how everyone is always laughing for no apparent reason, or how he goes into way too much detail for characters that only have about one line and limited impact on the plot.

But no, that won’t fly.

See, today we are looking at The Bazaar of Bad Dreams – which is not a novel, but a collection of novellas and short stories and a couple of poems.

Wow, so you need to review a whole six stories like you did for the Anthony Horowitz book way back when you started this challenge? I hear you say.

Well, first off Horowitz Horror had nine stories, not six. Maybe you should have checked before piping up, eh? Would have saved yourself the embarrassment.

Secondly, King’s little work has twenty stories.


Yeah, throw inflation on that over the few weeks since I read this book and you’re asking me to write about 20 stories, none of which I can remember.

This will be impossible.

I’m not going to try.

Let’s begin.

But before we do…

I have spoken about Stephen King – my general thoughts on him and previous experience with his works way back in my second ever review – Lisey’s Story. If you want to check that out, do so here, if not, let’s move on.

The Bazaar of Bar Dreams

This book starts with an introduction by the man himself – Stephen King that is, not God.

I’ve mentioned before, in relation to Darren Shan, how much I enjoy when writers talk about their process. As a writer myself, I always such insight fascinating.

As with Shan, King is fab at this. He’s even written a book on the topic – On Writing (coming later in this challenge) – and starts many of his books with notes about their writing.

This book is no different. Not only is there an introduction, but the stories all start with notes. Some only a couple of lines long, some much more substantial. Some offering invaluable insight, some offering little.

I won’t talk about these in the reviews below, but I do think they are a brilliant thing to include. Should I have become a popular author myself (don’t smirk like that) I’d do it myself.

But, without further ado, let’s get into the reviews.

1. Mile 81

I bought the Bazaar of Bad Dreams in a Sainsbury’s in 2016 and I did mean to read it.

I’ve mentioned before how I like seeing how professional writers put together short stories, as, in many ways, it’s more difficult to than writing novels.

So, I jumped into this book expecting to race through it.

Some of the stories to come are pretty short. Some very short.

Unfortunately, Mile 81 comes first, and it’s more Novella than short story.

This combined with Stephen King’s heavy style made the story hard going, and so I did what I always do – gave up less than twenty pages in.

Having done that, I skipped through a little of the story this time, because I remember it. I read the first few pages – because they are well written – then skim read until I reached where I had given up before.

I know, I know. Cheating.

But whatever.

I liked the story though. I didn’t consider it a perfect example of short-form stories, because it’s not cutthroat. It doesn’t stick to the story. There’s plenty of classic King talking around the story – despite him discussing how you have to do the opposite of this in his introduction – but it was well written.

The ending was satisfying, with a circular reference that pointed back to the beginning, and it involved the baddy being defeated, which King stories sometimes don’t.

On the downside, there was a return to a classic King villain here (I say return, this story was written many years ago, before Carrie, but it’s been re-written since).

The villain in question is a car. For many, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve read both Christine and From a Buick 8 in the last 18 months, so it feels a bit tired – even if King does try to get around this with a self-referential mention of Christine.

Overall, this is a strong beginning to the collection, but I think the volume could have benefited from starting with one of the shorter stories.

Just to ease us in.

2. Premium Harmony

Christ, I should have written notes on what each story was about because I already can’t remember this one.

The notes I did write, incidentally, read like this:

Premium Harmony

  1. It’s present tense third person
  2. Not much happens.

Very insightful, Mark.

Flicking back through it I remember, and the notes above are true.

The present tense third person isn’t a negative, necessarily, it’s just odd. It makes the story flow a little faster, and is different from the norm.

The story itself revolves around a couple who argue in the car before the wife drops dead in the store.

There is a neat little twist at the end, but it’s short, interesting, and obviously not all that memorable.

3. Batman and Robin Have an Altercation

Oh, this is going to be an awful review, isn’t it?

We’ve such a long way to go and I’ve no idea what I’m writing.

I should quit now.

But I won’t.

My notes for this story run as follows: “Good little human story.”

And actually, I think I do remember it, and a glance at the first page makes me realise I’m right in what I’m remembering.

I also notice it’s third person present tense, so I don’t know why that didn’t make the notes this time.

I guess it’s because I was enjoying the story more, which revolves around a man taking his Alzheimer’s suffering father to lunch – something he does every couple of weeks – and then getting into an altercation with a bruiser following a road accident.

The story handles a difficult topic well and was affecting. While there is not much more plot than the story before, it is more interesting and has a better flow.

A decent read.

4. The Dune

I remember this one.

Notes read: Interesting little plot, well told, good ending.

The story revolves around a man who sees names written in a sand dune. Shortly after he sees the names the people – yep, you guessed it – die.

Most of the story is our protagonist telling this story to his companion, and the ending is top. Ostensibly it’s a twist, and while I guessed it a bit before it happened, it’s still a neat ending.

I won’t say much here, because I don’t want to spoil it, but another quality tale.

5. Bad Little Kid

I remember this one too!

All I’ve written is: This story has more patent King laughter.

I don’t recall the bit I’m referring to but clearly, we are faced here with people bursting into laughter for no apparent reason. A classic King trope. (Did I mention that above? I might have done.)

The story itself is well written though not stand out, revolving around a bad little kid who shows up and makes bad things happen, and told from the perspective of a man on death row for murder.

6. A Death

We’re a quarter of the way through folks – hang in there!

Notes read: Good and sharp, but the ending was sad.

But what happened?

Seriously, I can’t remember.

Oh yes, it’s about a man arrested for murder who pleads his innocence. If I say any more, I’ll give it away, so I won’t.

7. The Bone Church

Notes read: Oh fuck, it’s a poem.

King admits he’s not all that when it comes to poetry, and this poem proves it.

So that all fits.

8. Morality

And the winner of the story that prompted me into writing my longest set of notes is… this one!

“Best one yet. Well delivered. Cleverly unravelled. Made me want to write something like it. Sad.”

As you might have guessed, it’s a study of morality, and this is indeed my favourite thing to write about.

My first book, Poor Choices, was a look at morality, and how little crimes can lead to bigger ones, and this story is of a similar vein. The difference being while my story starts with an accidental theft, this begins with a couple being offered the chance to make a lot of money for a small crime.

I think this is my favourite story in the collection. It’s not that long (though far from the shortest) but it packs everything it needs to in.

If you read nothing else in the book, read this.

9. Afterlife

Oh, and this!

Of all the things people describe Stephen King as – funny is never one of them.

Yet this tale was funny and was up there with the tale that proceeded it.

I’ve written: it’s about my least favourite thing (death) but what isn’t?

It’s about a man who dies and heads up to some sort of limbo where he meets a middleman and is given a choice.

There are a few twists and turns, but the laughs propel the tale and made me want to see more like this from King.

It’s my silver medal story!

10. UR

This was the one story I had heard of outside of the short story collection (although most of the tales have been published elsewhere).

It was written about the Kindle soon after its release and deals with one such device that can see both backwards and forwards in time into various multiverses.

It was an interesting concept, the story was well written and compelling enough, but it fell down where many of King’s stories (and many stories in general) do.

It’s ending, which was weak.

Overall though, a decent quality Novella.

11. Herman Wouk is Still Alive

Halfway there folks!

The notes for this story (which for some reason come under the heading ‘Harold’) read: Not convinced I like this one about the car trip.

Despite the mention of the car trip to jog my memory, I still had to go back to the book to remember any of this tale.

Now I kind of remember the premise (a couple of drinking women win money and crash their cars with kids in it) but don’t remember much more of the story.

Perhaps that says all it needs to.

12. Under the Weather

Continuing the theme of the Dune this is a story where the end is obvious some way off.

The difference here is that King knew this was the case, and even put it in the story notes.

Still, this story is better than the Dune. It’s as well written as all the tales but it’s also really well written, dealing with a man’s delusion and ultimately, being incredibly sad.

Another worth reading even if you only read a couple. My bronze medal winner.

13. Blockade Billy

I said earlier UR was the only story I had heard of before diving into this collection, which just goes to show how little I remember of it.

In truth, I had also heard of Blockade Billy, and knew a little, though not much.

When reading, I forgot to write notes for this one.

What a loss!

I do kinda remember this one anyway. It’s the story about a young Baseball player and the mystery that surrounds him.

King states at the beginning (Defensively) you don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this tale, and he’s right.

Still, it didn’t stand out. Not because it was about baseball, it just wasn’t as strong as some of the other tales in this book.

14. Mister Yummy

I read the notes for this story (another sad story. Another that gave me an idea for a great story of my own) and for a second was pulling my hair out trying to remember what happened.

Then I did. This is a story dealing with a man who is suffering from HIV in an old people’s home. He is dying, and he sees a man from long in his past as he does so.

As mentioned, it gave me an idea for my own short story, and I can’t wait for the chance to write it (though I’ve no idea when I’ll fit it in).

The story is a slow mover, but worth taking the time to read.

Another powerful, affecting tale.

15. Tommy

Glad we’ve got notes for this one!

They read: Another poem.

And that is all I have to say.

16. The Little Green God of Agony

Three-quarters of the way through folks. Just hold in a little long. It’s painful for me too, but we owe it to ourselves to persevere.

My notes read: the wrong man wins.

From what I remember this is a decent little monster tale, but the above annoys me.

The tale revolves around a man who has been in an accident but refuses to work hard on physiotherapy to make himself better.

His long-suffering nurse puts up with a lot of his crap, but when a man claiming the pain is a demon comes in, she loses her mind and calls him out.

It’s a well-delivered moment of power for the nurse, which is immediately undone when the pain does, in fact, turn out to be a monster.

Spoiler alert.

17. That Bus is another world.

No, it isn’t.

18. Obits

I’ve written: Decent Premise, needs more exploration

That about sums it up.

This is the story of a man who discovers by writing people’s obituaries, he can kill them.

However, it quickly emerges that his powers have unintended repercussions.

Then the story ends.

I would have loved to see this developed a little further, though maybe it wasn’t right for the story. Either way, a solid little tale.

19. Drunken Fireworks

I’ve written: boring

What a dick I am.

Here’s one of the most successful, well respected writers of all time, and I’m what? A nobody, a nothing.

Yet I think I can call this tale about two families facing off in a fireworks competition every year boring?

What a dick I am.

Was boring though.

20. Summer Thunder

We’ve reached the end of the collection, and the end of the world as we hit another one of Stephen King’s favourite topics.

The apocalypse, this time, it seems, via nuclear means.

I’ve written: depressing.

But it was another well told story about a man who meets a dog and another man as the world collapses around them.

It had a sad end, but how better to end a collection of short stories than with the end of all things.

Next Up

The next book starts with the word screenwriting, and I had to look up the rest:

The art, craft and business of film and television writing.

That’s too long.

It’s a subtitle, I know. Still too long.

The book is about how to improve your screenwriting talents. That’s obvious from the title I suppose.

See you for it.



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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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