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
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!
Did you know that sometimes Stephen King is not scary, not all stories need terror. Often 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 of Gwendy’s Button Box is of Gwendy doing running 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 Gwendy’s Button Box. 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 if 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. An author I will be reading a lot more of this year.
Instead of gross-out scares, we have the haunting of the mind and soul, which is, I think, way more interesting 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.
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.