(Nightmares & Dreamscapes)
I could almost skip doing a post on Nightmares & Dreamscapes and tell y’all to just go read the foreword and the notes at the back of the book. As with other short story collections, these are some of my favorite parts of the book, when King talks directly to the reader and reveals some of his mindset around these stories. And I’m quite sure that he’s better at explaining them than I’ll ever be.
But Nightmares & Dreamscapes is something of a favorite of mine, for nostalgia reasons if nothing else. It was gifted to me at the same time Wizard and Glass was gifted to me — for my 14th or 15th birthday, I believe — not one of the first King books I ever read, but definitely rather early in my King journey, yet far enough into it that someone shopping for birthday presents would recognize his books as something I would want, I guess. I remember getting those books and being excited to dive into them. And while I did love Wizard and Glass, it was also a book in the middle of a series that I hadn’t read before, which meant that it was missing something for me (the first three books). I had no such issues with Nightmares & Dreamscapes — there’s no wrong time to dive into a collection of short stories, after all — and I appreciated having so many different stories to explore in one book. I’ve always liked story collections in general for that reason, and of course, I like King’s in particular. So because it’s an old favorite, I won’t simply refer you to King’s notes and move on. Instead, I’ll go through and talk about some of my favorite stories in the volume.
Dolan’s Cadillac — I think I didn’t like this one as much on first read, but with each subsequent reading, it’s gotten a bit creepier to me. It’s an interesting style for King — it’s not so unusual for him to write in first person, but we don’t even learn the protagonist’s name in this story — we do get a last name toward the end, Dolan guesses that it’s “Robinson” and while the character doesn’t confirm or deny this in so many words, the strong implication is that this guess is correct. We do get a first name for the dead wife whose voice is driving the main character, though — Elizabeth — and so it seems as if this is really mostly Elizabeth’s story of revenge. The actual protagonist is just a tool of hers.
The End of The Whole Mess — I feel like, especially when considering the Big Problems of the world, a definite worry is “what if the cure is worse than the disease?” and this story explores that. The disease is essentially people being mean, on both small and large scales — a problem that has gone exactly nowhere since this story was written — and the cure ends up being Alzheimer’s disease. I feel like you see a lot of different Kings in this one. There is what appears to be an essentially kind and peace-loving man who truly seems to hate that impulse for meanness that leads to everything from bullies to world wars. This tracks with all kinds of King works, and I feel safe saying that it reveals something about the man himself. For all he spends his time writing about horrors, this is a man who definitely does not consider himself to be mean, who abhors it in others, and who would really like us all to just get along. There’s the pessimist, who can’t actually see a way to world peace without a severe loss of cognitive abilities. That may seem like a leap, but you see that in some of his work — a sense of “I would like this to be better, but it won’t happen, or if it does, it will get worse in other ways.” I think his writing more often reveals him to be essentially an optimist, but this is a valid facet of his mindset. The optimist also makes an appearance here, though — the plants are all gone, but we saved the greenhouse, and maybe something will grow again here someday. It’s not particularly optimistic for the human race, but it’s overall optimistic that something good will come, eventually.
Suffer The Little Children — See, this is why I want to refer you to the notes. King calls this one a “ghastly sick-joke with no redeeming social merit whatever,” then says that he likes that in a story. I tend to agree on both counts, and I can’t put it any better.
Dedication — I’m a little unsure if this story holds up, but I have always enjoyed it anyway. One line in particular that I’ve always liked is when Martha describes her son’s book and Peter Jeffries’s books as having a feel to them that’s the same — something you catch around the corners. Which is a great way of describing books and authors that aren’t alike, exactly, but have a sort of intangible something that relates them in your mind — maybe the author’s worldview or vision seeping onto the page, somehow, in a way that grabs you even if one book is a western and the other is sci-fi. Or maybe they just both have a way of putting things that tickles a particular spot in your brain. I don’t know if that’s the same for every reader — my mind might catch that feeling about two authors that you wouldn’t necessarily relate to. But it’s always been an interesting thought to me. I feel like you see it a lot with television, too — two series that don’t share a common universe, characters, or creators, but nevertheless remind you of each other. Sometimes, that’s probably just a consequence of the same writers in different writers’ rooms, but sometimes it’s not.
The Moving Finger — I tend to disagree with the popular opinion that King is bad at ending books (which is usually where you learn why things happen). Sure, he’s got some bad endings, and bad explanations for things, but he’s written a ton of stuff — not always getting it right is to be expected. I think he does get it right more often than not, and when he doesn’t, it’s usually still close enough for me — I’m more a journey than a destination person, I care a lot more about what happens and what the characters do with that than why it happened in the first place. All of that to say, this is a story that doesn’t even bother giving a why. And I’m fine with that. When I walk into the bathroom to find the toilet overflowing, I barely care why that is happening — I just care about stopping it. The only reason I might care why is that knowing why might help me stop it. A random finger coming up out of a drain in the bathroom? I promise you that I wouldn’t care at all why that was happening — all I would care about would be stopping it. This story works well for me on that level.
You Know They Got A Hell of A Band/Rainy Season — Putting these two together because they’re essentially variations on the same theme. Again referring to King’s notes, he calls this out himself and also their similarity to “Children of the Corn”. I am not complaining, though — I happen to love Peculiar Little Town stories. I love King’s creepy little towns, I loved the ones from Twilight Zone, I love Ray Bradbury’s. The only real issue I have with King’s Peculiar Little Towns is that we always seem to arrive there via a married couple who are tense with each other during a road trip of some sort. That part’s a bit too similar, unless marital strain on a roadtrip is some sort of portal-opening force. But then, road trips are very Kingian — and come to that, so are squabbling couples. In any case, each Peculiar Little Town has its own Peculiarities, and that’s what really matters. If I have to pick, I like Rock and Roll Heaven in this collection best, but both of these stories make me happy.
Sorry, Right Number — I can see this story happen in my head, thanks to its teleplay format, and I’d very much like to see it on actual TV. It must be out there somewhere, right? I’ll have to look for it. (Slight edit — I did look for it, and since it’s about 22 minutes long and a much smaller commitment than watching a movie, I watched it. It was… pretty faithful to the original script, at least, although they did excise the new husband, probably for run time. I feel like the actors could have been better, and the production values are obviously old, but otherwise, it was fine. I think I liked reading it better, though.)
The Ten O’Clock People — So, I’m a smoker and have been since I was 15. I’m not proud of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready or willing to give it up, either. I guess maybe that’s why I feel some solidarity with Brandon Pearson and the rest of the Ten O’Clock tribe. It would be nice if the habit were somehow useful, like because it let you see who has been taken over by batpeople or lizardpeople or whatever. Also, I noted that King’s commentary says that he wrote this in the summer of 1992. Which means that when Brandon sees that the Vice President is a batperson… he’s talking about Dan Quayle. Which I found hilarious. I mean, I guess he doesn’t have to be talking about Dan Quayle, it could be a fictional VP, but since King seems to usually write in present-day and use real references for wheres and whens that are on (or that resemble) our level of the tower, and since Bat-VP is starting out by defending himself/the administration from the accusation that they hate working mothers and poor people, that really makes me think it’s Dan Quayle. Which made me laugh so hard.
Crouch End — Were you looking for a less-racist Lovecraft? Here you go!
The House on Maple Street — My biggest complaint about this re-read of this story is that I read it on the Kindle, and the Kindle version doesn’t have the excellent picture that this story is based on included. If you look up the story in the paperback version (and I assume the hardback version as well) it should be there. I feel like the writing style here reminds me of a certain kind of story about English siblings having adventures — think the kids from the Narnia books or the brother and sisters from A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s comfortable, the kids are easy to root for, the house blasting off with the stepdad inside should be horrifying, but he’s so awful, you’re happy to see it. And no particular reason for this inexplicable thing happening — it just does, and that’s good enough.
The Doctor’s Case — I’m not much of a fan of Sherlock Holmes, to be completely honest, but I do like this version of a Sherlock Holmes story where Watson solves a case. Because I don’t really care for the original, I don’t know if this is similar to the writing style found in those, if the characterization is way off, or what. But I like the characterization of Watson as a smart guy who’s not cynical enough to see just how bad people can be — that appeals to me.
Umney’s Last Case — I don’t feel like this style of mystery is especially interesting to me usually. But having the author of a 1930-something gumshoe suddenly drop in from the 1990s and take over is a pretty good premise. We’ve explored ideas like this before — “The Word Processor of The Gods” is one where the author writes things into and out of existence, and in both The Dark Half and Secret Window, Secret Garden, the author brings a character to life in some way. This is similar, but different in that the author walks into the story, adjusts things to his liking, and kicks the main character out and into his own shitty 90s life. It’s fun, and you can’t help but root for Umney to get back to his own place and time, fictional though it is, by the end.
There are, of course, more stories in this collection, but I’m already at 2000 words, and I think that’s enough. These are the ones I like best — not a short list — but I’d recommend pretty much all of the other ones too. The only ones I really don’t care for are the baseball essay and poem, and that’s probably just because I care so little about baseball that it doesn’t really matter to me who’s writing about them. I would recommend them to someone who wasn’t bored stiff by any mention of baseball, though.