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Published by Cemetery Dance Publications on May 16, 2017
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The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told... until now.
There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.
At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.
One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: "Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me."
On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat...
Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!
I am pleased to announce that Tony Jones is joining our team of reviewers here at Horror After Dark. He is a life-long horror fan who reviews books for the sites ‘The Ginger Nuts of Horror’ and ‘Horror Novel Reviews’. By day he is a school librarian who spends his time recommending books to kids. Look for more of Tony’s reviews coming soon!
“A chocolate a day really does keep the doctor away….”
So Stephen King takes us back to his favourite setting of Castle Rock after a good number of years away, and I guess that one fact makes this entertaining novella more of a King work than a Chizmar. So long term King readers will be rubbing their hands with anticipation! I’m not sure how the authors shared the writing duties but it certainly read like a King novel with a few sly references to other Castle Rock based works and a couple of recurring characters popping up along the way.
However, I must question why it has been released as a standalone novella at all? It’s a very slim read at 170 pages, with a big font, lots of blank pages and illustrations. So this pricey hardback really isn’t worth the money, nor is it worth the £8.99 kindle price tag for under two hours reading. By King’s high standards this tale could quite easily snuggle inside one of his periodic collections of novellas and short stories and barely lead to a raised eyebrow. It does not compare in any way to any of his classic novellas of yesteryear, so perhaps it’s the collaborative efforts which have led to the standalone release. I do not know.
The story itself is enjoyable enough and an entertaining afternoons reading in which the authors whisk the reader all the way back to 1974 and all the nostalgia that entails – drive ins, small town life, the pill, young love, high school, your first car and of course the supernatural. King remains one of the absolute masters of the coming of age tale, spiced with the otherworld, and he blends both majestically in a similar fashion to he did with the highly underrated “Joyland” which was set in a similar period.
Gwendy is a slightly chubby and self-conscious girl who wants to lose weight before starting Middle School, so she daily runs up a set of very steep steps known as the Suicide Stairs. One morning she meets a strange man called Richard Farris who gives her a button box, she knows she shouldn’t take it but Farris nevertheless convinces her. It looks a bit like a jewelry box, but has properties which are far from normal and in their own spooky way help Gwendy. The buttons and levers on the box have different functions, pull one lever and it produces a tiny piece of chocolate. The chocolate tastes beautiful and has properties I will not go into….. A further lever gives Gwendy a valuable silver Dollar from 1891. There are other buttons which are perhaps much more sinister….. Of all the Castle Rock novels it reminded be most of “Needful Things”, indeed, it’s the type of item you’d probably find for sale in that nasty little shop….
As it’s a coming of age story it follows Gwendy from around aged eleven right through High School and all the way throughout the tale her button box remains an important part of her life. Gwendy doesn’t really understand why, nor does she question whether her success in life is influenced in some way by the box or her long-term obsession with it. In King’s astonishing body of work this will most likely be seen as a filler and will undoubtedly turn up in future collections. I don’t know enough about Chizmar to comment on how it fits into his writing, however, he is a well known specialist on shorter fiction and to work with King must have been something special. It’s also worth noting that this book is pretty child friendly and if you’re interested in introducing a twelve year old to the mighty Stephen King and don’t think he or she could manage his bigger books, this could be a wonderful introduction.
About Stephen King
Stephen Edwin King was born the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his father left them when Stephen was two, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. Parts of his childhood were spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father’s family was at the time, and in Stratford, Connecticut. When Stephen was eleven, his mother brought her children back to Durham, Maine, for good. Her parents, Guy and Nellie Pillsbury, had become incapacitated with old age, and Ruth King was persuaded by her sisters to take over the physical care of them. Other family members provided a small house in Durham and financial support. After Stephen’s grandparents passed away, Mrs. King found work in the kitchens of Pineland, a nearby residential facility for the mentally challenged.
Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate. He came to support the anti-war movement on the Orono campus, arriving at his stance from a conservative view that the war in Vietnam was unconstitutional. He graduated in 1970, with a B.A. in English and qualified to teach on the high school level. A draft board examination immediately post-graduation found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet, and punctured eardrums.
He met Tabitha Spruce in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University, where they both worked as students; they married in January of 1971. As Stephen was unable to find placement as a teacher immediately, the Kings lived on his earnings as a laborer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men’s magazines.
Stephen made his first professional short story sale (“The Glass Floor”) to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. Throughout the early years of his marriage, he continued to sell stories to men’s magazines. Many were gathered into the Night Shift collection or appeared in other anthologies.
In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching English at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels.
Some people hug a teddy when the world gets to be too much. Me? I settle in with a scary book.