Nightmares & Dreamscapes includes short stories that range from merely quirky to seriously spooky, a nonfiction piece about baseball, a teleplay, and notes about pieces’ origins, all by that master of the macabre, Stephen King.
My favorites of King’s works are his stories in which the horror comes out of people rather than out of the drains or the ether. Leading the lineup of those is “Dolan’s Cadillac,” a story about an elementary teacher who gets revenge on a gangster for killing his wife through an elaborate ruse that lures the villain to drive his Cadillac into hole sized just large enough for the car to fit in without allowing the passengers to escape.
Readers with a taste for the occult should read “The Night Flier,” in which a writer for a sleazy rag investigates a series of deaths in small East Coast towns with small airports. The journalistic elements in the tale were enough to keep my attention.
“The Doctor’s Case.” a Sherlockian spoof in which Watson solves the mystery, and “Umney’s Last Case,” a take-off on Raymond Chandler novels, are simply fun.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes has something readers of every taste to like as well as some things to dislike.
Skeleton Crew is a collection of 22 Stephen King short stories of varying lengths and varying degrees of weirdness.
The hefty volume rings all the bells King fans enjoy and adds a few notes about the creative process behind them.
King has a particularly good ear for children’s memories, which he demonstrates in “The Monkey,” a story about a toy that has the ability to kill, and “Gramma,” a story of an 11-year-old left to care for his senile grandmother when his mother must go to the hospital because his older brother has been injured at football practice.
My favorites stories from the collection are built around situations that would be unsettling even without any supernatural flounces, such as:
“Here There Be Tygers” in which a third grader has to go to the bathroom which is in the school basement, a very scary place.
“The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet,” in which a crazy writer feeds a creature called a fornit that lives in his typewriter and produces words for him: What else could explain them?
There may not be a story here for every reader’s taste, but there’s enough variety that most readers will find something intriguing.
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1985. 512 p.
1985 bestseller #5; my grade: B+
Henry Van Dyke’s 1902 bestselling fiction book is a collection of stories about the inward happiness, symbolized by The Blue Flower. Van Dyke’s opalescent prose is a misty and mystical swirl of fairy tale and fables, chivalry and Christianity.
About half the stories have a religious theme. The most famous of these is the fable of “The Other Wise Man” who missed seeing the Christ Child because he stopped to care for those in need.
However, the best of the religious stories in the volume isn’t “The Other Wise Man” but “The Source.” Although clearly a moral tale, “The Source.” has a clear-sighted realism that makes the Wise Man seem maudlin.
“The Mill” and “Wood-Magic” are charming in different ways. “The Mill, ” drawing on the legends of Camelot, has a rugged, adventureous character, while “Wood-Magic” has a summer siesta dreaminess that feels both fantastic and familiar.
The best—and least typical—of the stories is “Spy Rock.” Set in the New York’s rugged Catskills Mountains in the nineteenth century, it solves the mystery of the moodiness and frequent of teacher Edward Keene from the presence of his fiancee, the lovely Dorothy Ward. The Blue Flower is worth reading just for “Spy Rock” alone.
James A. Michener was a World War II aviator. In 1949, convinced that America’s future was linked with Asia’s, he decided to return to the South Pacific “to write a kind of book that . . . had never been tried before.”
The result is Return to Paradise, a collection of essays about the island nations of the South Pacific interspersed with short stories set in those countries.
Today it’s obvious why this kind of book hadn’t been tried before: it just does not work.
Michener could make a bus schedule interesting. His essays mix tidbits of trivia with a broad historical perspective. But much of his commentary needs footnotes today: Was $2200 a year big money in 1948 or chicken feed?
The short stories, however, are timeless. Beautifully written, they plunge deep into human relationships.
“Until They Sail,” explores what happens to women when all the able-bodied mean are gone to war. Another stunner is “The Jungle,” which explores what American women want from their men through the unlikely lens of a vacation to Guadalcanal aboard a tramp steamer.
A historian might make a great book today from juxtaposing Michener’s essays with contemporary views of the same islands. Until such a historian comes along, stick to reading Michener’s short stories: they don’t date.
Return to Paradise
by James A. Michener
Random House, 1951
My grade C—
1951 bestseller #8