STEPHEN KING — RICHARD CHIZMAR — GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX — 2017
Stephen King has rarely written novels with other authors, just a very few indeed. This novella is one of them. The action is in the past and covers the period from 1974 to 1984. Yet the first element I have to tell is the fact that this distant period is not in any way really present in the story as it is the case in all the books written by Stephen King that deal with a distant past. He is very careful to set the details so correctly that everything is perfect. Here only the references to music, to a Walkman, to a drive-in and films are correct but Gwendy is working in the drive-in at the refreshments counter and the price of the popcorn is not provided, and that is not typical of Stephen King.
The second remark is that the main character is a girl who one day encounters the man in black, and the latter is a common acquaintance in many books by Stephen King, especially when dealing with Castle Rock, though not only, far from it. But we have to think of “Needful Things.” But this version of the man in black is not so devilish as it used to be in many novels, like for instance “The Stand.” The present Mr. Farris gives to Gwendy is not necessarily negative. It does not bring the negative side of Gwendy out but it is versatile and it brings out the dominant side of the caretaker, Gwendy in this case, hence her good side. Actually it seems the man in black has chosen Gwendy because she is positive enough to use the box to improve the world, to save the world, to prevent bad events.
In the present situation in the world and the USA we can even dream of this box preventing the dramatic tragic and pitiful political climb of the Suicide Stairs by a certain Donald. Unluckily that is pure fiction, I mean the existence of a box that could prevent such an event, though the tragic dramatic and pitiful acts of this Donald are not fictional at all, rather suicidal, and if the world is not good enough to absorb the blow without overreacting his actions could be or become apocalyptic.
That’s an element that is not common in Stephen King. Not only does the box prevent bad events in Gwendy’s custody, but it ends well without any foreseeable catastrophe, or at least some hopeful ending after a complete catastrophe eventually redeemed by some human sacrifice. We are not on the line of “Needful Things” or “The Stand.”
That makes the story simple, easy-going and even attractive not because of the horror it contains and creates in us but because it is in a way charmingly innocent. In other words, “Goodyear” is not some kind of inflated tire you may carry around your waist, hence synonymous to Dunlop or Michelin, but it is a cry like: This is such a “Good Year”! That positiveness of the story is so different from what we could expect from Stephen King that we may wonder if Stephen King is the real author.
Some will say he is aging, getting mellow and they might be right, but yet his writing style is still there and the story, even though mild and charming, is easy to read and linguistically creative. His language is so much like real everyday rich language we can hear all around. Stephen King writes the way creative speakers do peak. His language is as rich as urban English, even if at times his urban English is typical of Stephen King more than glib loquacious and flippant street or corner speakers in the Bronx.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU