A World of Choices in Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Another Amazing Story Out of Castle Rock, Maine

“The world is insane. You only have to watch the news to know it.” ― Stephen King, Gwendy’s Button Box

About

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!

Stats

Hardcover, 171 pages

Published May 16th 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Original Title

Gwendy’s Button Box

ISBN

1587676109 (ISBN13: 9781587676109)

Edition Language

English

Series The Button Box #1

Characters Gwendy Peterson

setting Castle Rock, Maine (United States)

My Thoughts

Did you know that sometimes Stephen King is not scary, not all stories need terror. Sometimes existential dread will do the trick. If you are scared of the future and where you fit into the grand scheme of the world, then Gwendy’s Button Box is the story for you.

In my quest to read all the King novels, including his more obscure stuff, I came across this little gem. It stars Gwendy, as in a mash-up of Gwendolin and Wendy, as a typical young girl in the 1970s. The first scene if of Gwendy doing laps on a dangerous set of steps called the Suicide Steps. One of her classmates called her fat, and this has caused an intense need to exercise and lose any pudge that the 11-year-old might be holding on to. The theme of self-acceptance comes up often as a significant theme throughout the story. Gwendy needs everyone to accept her, and the button box offers a way for her to be above reproach. Gwendy encounters a weird man in a black top hat on her way to leave the Suicide Steps. Again, strange people in top hats are a common occurrence in Stephen King’s books. Still, I have no idea why top hats are a trigger point for the bizarre in King’s worlds, but there you go. The enigmatic man offers Gwendy a choice, take the mysterious black box with buttons, a box that Gwendy feels to the marrow of her bones that belongs to her, or don’t. Of course, Wendy accepts the responsibility of the box. And it is a responsibility because as the story progresses, we come to understand the innate power that the box has over the universe. Triggers and switches on the box can crush whole continents, buttons, and levers can make any desire that Gwendy has come true. Gwendy is not just some girl; she was, in a way, selected to protect the box for several years. In exchange for her acceptance and protection of the power of the box, Gwendy gets perks. She is gorgeous and healthy. Everything that she strives to do is effortless.

“They are sitting in Gwendy’s bedroom after school, listening to the new Billy Joel album and supposedly studying for an English mid-term.”
― Stephen King, Gwendy’s Button Box

With an effortless existence comes a bit of ennui. What is she pulled a lever? Why does any of this matter at all? Coupled with typical teenageness, Gwendy has a difficult time controlling her impulses. That is the crux of the story more than the black button box. Given infinite power, what should Gwendy do? How does one weigh morals against exercising her power?

Gwendy is haunted by her ability to do destruction. 

This is a good Stephen King story. It is also co-written with (new to me author) Richard Chizmar. I will be reading more of his stuff. Instead of gross-out scares, we have the haunting of the mind and soul, which is think is way more interested than just being scared or disgusted. King does this kind of dread well; you see it a lot in his novels. It makes me think of the existential dread many of the characters in The Stand face. 

I loved this story, more so than some of the recent Stephen king shorts and novellas I have been reading. Elevation I am looking at you; you are lame-sauce. 

If you are looking for dread laced in your horror like strychnine on a cookie, this story is for you. And, at just under 30k words, it isn’t huge. 

Give Gwendy’s Button Box a try. 

Rating - 5 out of 5 Stars

Where to find it?

Procurement

I checked this out from library.

About the Author

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.
 

Comments

    1. Beth Tabler

      No!!! I had no idea it released yesterday. Haha good timing. I am for sure going to read the sequel. That was such a good story. Our tastes are so similar lol

  1. Lashaan Balasingam @ Bookidote

    Existential dread is indeed terrifying in its own way. I love the sound of this one and will keep an eye for a copy of it. The last and only King novel I read was actually The Dark Tower (The Gunslinger) and it’s a series I still need to continue and complete! Great review, Beth. 🙂

    1. Beth Tabler

      It is a quick read and so damn good. Shockingly good. Most of King’s books are decent to fantastic, so I am excited to be tackling some of them this year that I haven’t read. It should be fun.

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