Gwendy’s Button Box

September 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

buttonGwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

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I’ve only read one other piece of fiction Richard Chizmar has written — Dirty Coppers, a novella he co-wrote with Ed Gorman. It was terrible. At the time, I was a big fan of Gorman’s, and I was convinced it was Chizmar’s input that made it bad, and I never read anything else he wrote. I wasn’t purposefully avoiding it, but it wasn’t a name that inspired confidence, either.

Gwendy’s Button Box is making me rethink that position.

The novella starts off in King’s usual, conversational style, introducing us to one of his likable, sympathetic characters, Gwendy, who is twelve years old at the start of this story, in 1974. She’s being teased at school for her weight, and she’s begun running to slim down before she gets to junior high school. One morning, when she reaches the top of the Suicide Stairs, she meets a strange man in a black bowler hat who asks her to take care of a box with buttons on it.

Of course, the box is magical. It has two levers, one which dispenses chocolate candies, the other which dispenses mint condition, 1891 silver dollars, but it also has eight buttons on the outside. The strange man tells her the buttons represent the continents, with one representing whatever Gwendy chooses, and another representing everything. He never tells her what pressing the buttons does, but somehow she knows just the same.

The story takes us through Gwendy’s life, from junior high through her college years, and we see how the box affects her life. It’s mostly good, but it also has a strangely negative effect on her life, though it doesn’t affect her personally. Gwendy is more the box’s caretaker than its owner, and it has its own way of staying in her life. The entire story reads and feels like a Stephen King story.

I read an article about how the collaboration came to be, and the first 7,000 words are all King, with Chizmar picking it up from that point to carry it further, and then they started sending it back and forth for each one to write more to the story. Without knowing that, though, I would have expected it to be mostly King’s story, with Chizmar adding small pieces here and there. That he was able to take a King story and keep it going with the same voice, tone, and style is impressive. I actually have a collection of Chizmar’s stories, which I wasn’t enthused about reading, but now I feel like I have to give it a chance.

King’s Constant Readers will read this book (if they haven’t already; even though it’s published through Chizmar’s specialty press, one can find the book in Barnes and Noble), but anyone who enjoys a gentle, character-driven story should also read it. The story has its moments of darkness and violence, but for the most part, this is, as the title suggests, the story of Gwendy and her box. King’s strongest talent is in his characterization, and Gwendy is proof of that.

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