Gwendy’s Button Box & The Music Room, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Seven stars

Gwendy’s Button Box:

A wonderful collaboration between ‘King of Horror’ Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, who have been long-time friends but meshed their literary ideas into a single piece. This story is peppered with the New England flavour for which King is so well known and an innocent story that turns on a single item, something Chizmar surely influenced after being handed control of the story. Gwendy Peterson is an energetic girl who seeks to change herself before heading into middle school, where the teasing she has undergone will only get worse. When a mysterious man, Richard Farris, engages her in conversation, Gwendy soon realises that this is not a man who seeks to do her any harm. Rather, he has a special gift for her, a mahogany box affixed with eight buttons, their convex surfaces and varied colours quite alluring. Farris explains the importance of each button, warning her away from pressing the red, unless she is sure of what she wants, as it packs quite the punch. With that, Farris is gone and Gwendy is left to fend for herself. She hides the box from everyone else, pulling it out only to feed off the delectable sweets that are compartmentalised along one side. As the story progresses and Gwendy ages, she becomes tempted by the buttons, or at least the red one, and seeks to experiment. The result is anything but peaceful, but Gwendy knew that was a distinct possibility. With events around her playing out, Gwendy is left to wonder, could she be solely responsible? An interesting novella that pulls the reader in from the start and posits some interesting theories. A wonderfully entertaining read for any who enjoy some of the less macabre King work with this new spin that Chizmar brings to the writing process.

I have long been a King fan and can only hope that there will be more stories like this. King and Chizmar took on a seemingly innocent plot and allowed it to evolve and take shape, to the point that the reader is left to wonder just who Gwendy Peterson might be. She has moments of teenage naïveté that are contrasted nicely with some darker thoughts, especially when she knowingly uses the ‘red button’. However, there is little attempt by the authors to turn her into anything sinister. The same goes for Richard Farris, who balances precariously on the fence from being that creepy ‘man in the shadows’ to an innocent stranger who seeks to offer up something interesting, akin to the magic beans that Jack received for his cow. King and Chizmar take the story from there and allow Gwendy to apparently control her destiny, while also placing much burden at her feet. Did her pressing the button lead to various newsworthy calamities? Without going too far off the beaten path, King and Chizmar force the reader to wrestle with destiny and the influence of choices on the larger scale. Call it The Butterfly Effect through the eyes of a teenage girl. A wonderful story that packs a punch and offers up much entertainment, one can only hope that King has more of these ideas rumbling around and that Chizmar is on hand to help spin them, in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. King and Chizmar for this wonderful novella. I am impressed and the early hype is right; you two are a wonderful team!

The Music Room (written solely by Stephen King):

Pulled from a collection of short pieces that seek to flesh out what is going on in a popular painting, Stephen King offers up this for his readers. It is the low point of the Great Depression, with people starving and suffering just to make enough to eat. However, the Enderbys have found a way both to survive and entertain themselves at the expense of others. Various ‘guests’, picked up by Mr. Enderby, are placed in a sound-proof closet, left to fend for themselves, How will they make it? No one is quite sure. While the Enderbys consider themselves only thieves, picking the pockets of those who enter the room, the reader might have other ideas, as what goes in does not come out in the same form. An interesting tale, though not long enough to expound some of King’s true abilities.

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