King ponders death in ‘Bazaar of Bad Dreams’

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS. By Stephen King. Scribner. 512 pages. $30.

Stephen King has always addressed his “Constant Readers” in prefaces or afterwords to his books. He likes to share what inspired him or what he was thinking about when he wrote it.

But with the release of “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” King takes it to another level. Each of the 21 works of fiction in the collection features at least a paragraph, sometimes a few pages, from the author introducing it or sharing some detail to enhance reader appreciation. Or as he writes in an invocation to his “bazaar”: “Everything you see is handcrafted, and while I love each and every item, I’m happy to sell them because I made them especially for you. Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

The most toothsome of the bunch are “Morality,” an exploration of how far someone will go for a payday, and the longest of the lot, a 60-page tale called “Ur” that mocks today’s Kindle culture and contains more than a few veiled references to King’s beloved Dark Tower mythology.

This being King, there’s lots of death in these pages. And while there’s a smattering of the supernatural — an abandoned car on the Maine turnpike whose grill does more than catch bugs — there are also quite a few mediations on mortality.

King fans will find a few clunkers here, as well, according to their taste. I personally didn’t care for the two bits of poetry in the collection. King acknowledges in one of his intros that he’s a born novelist and that even short stories are a challenging discipline for him, so why bother sharing a few scraps of verse?