(Gwendy’s Button Box)
Gwendy Peterson is an interesting character in King’s pantheon. The Gwendy trilogy is a collaboration between King and author Richard Chizmar, with both men contributing to the first and third installments and Chizmar writing the second installment solo. So that’s odd to start with. I have the second Gwendy on my list of books to cover here, even though it’s not written by King, because I think it belongs here — and it does play in King’s world. Gwendy comes out of the town of Castle Rock, and you don’t get much more Kingian than that.
Gwendy is also visited by a mysterious man with the initials RF, which is definitely a Kingian thing as well — although this particular RF seems a bit different. Usually, when that guy shows up, he’s evil. Here, this is not so clear-cut. We’re at the beginning of the trilogy, so he could always show his evil colors later… but maybe not. Maybe this is our usual RF’s non-evil twinner, or something. We don’t know yet. He’s pretty interesting
Gwendy is maybe not as interesting. I don’t mean that as a criticism, exactly. I just don’t find her especially complicated. If Gwendy reminds me of anyone, it’s Stu Redman. They’re both solid. Dependable. They’re unambiguously good characters. Neither a Stu nor a Gwendy is going to break your world. If they make mistakes, they won’t make them spectacularly, and they’ll do whatever they can to correct them. They don’t want to hurt anyone; they want to do the right thing, and they don’t have to try very hard to accomplish either — kindness and doing the right thing comes naturally to them. These aren’t bad traits, although I think The Stand might have been less interesting if Stu had been the only main character. Gwendy’s Button Box — and even the entire Gwendy trilogy taken as a whole — isn’t The Stand, though. What happens to her is interesting; you’re just never very worried that Gwendy is going to make a heel turn or fail to achieve whatever her ultimate goal is. The Gwendys of the fictional world rarely do these things.
It’s actually kind of hopeful in that way. If you can believe that there are Gwendys out there in the world — people who see the right choices fairly easily and try to make those choices whenever they can, people who recognize when they fail to make the right choices and try to make up for it as best they can — then you can believe there’s hope for all of us. We aren’t all bad people or even super-complicated people who mean well but have a hard time doing right. Some of us are just out there doing the right thing as much as we can and find that it mostly comes fairly easily. Surely, that means there are still right things to do. Surely, a world with Gwendys in it is one worth saving. Right?
I like Gwendy. I don’t think this book, or the trilogy, is a masterpiece — I do think it’s probably about as close as King might get to a cozy kind of story. Gwendy feels comfortable to me. I think that it’s definitely worth giving it a chance. I’ve written before about how King stories usually have some hope in them, even when the worst monsters or disasters are upon the characters. Gwendy feels like that, but more. Given the time period when it was published (2017) I think there’s some evidence that King either felt like he needed that or felt like his readers did or both. We’ll see it to an even greater extent in 2018’s Elevation. And to be honest, I know that for me, the years between 2016-2020 were fairly rough in terms of how I viewed the world and the people in it… actually, I’m not sure 2020 is the cutoff, either. Maybe I should say 2016 -present. I think a lot of people felt similarly. It would track with my understanding of him if King did too. I don’t know that Gwendy is the character I’d pick to spend time with when I was feeling great, but if I was feeling down about the world, I could totally see cozying up with Gwendy. Sure, there are forces out there trying to destroy the world… but there’s also Gwendy. So it can’t be all bad.