"Gwendy's Button Box" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Cemetery Dance Publications
Written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
2017, 180 pages, Fiction
Released on May 16th, 2017
So Stephen King takes us back to his favourite setting of Castle Rock after a good number of years away, and I guess that one fact makes this entertaining novella more of a King work than a Richard Chizmar. Undoubtedly many long term King readers will be rubbing their hands with anticipation! I'm not sure how the authors shared the writing duties, but Gwendy's Button Box certainly reads like a King novel with a few sly references to other Castle Rock based works and a couple of recurring characters popping up along the way.
However, I must question why it has been released as a standalone novella at all? It's a very slim read at 180 pages, with a big font, lots of blank pages and illustrations. Overall this pricey hardback really isn't worth the money, nor is it worth the £8.99 Kindle price tag for under two hours of reading. By King's high standards, this tale could quite easily snuggle inside one of his periodic collections of novellas and short stories and barely lead to a raised eyebrow. It does not compare in any way to any of his classic novellas of yesteryear, so perhaps it's the collaborative efforts which have led to the standalone release. I do not know.
The story itself is enjoyable enough and an entertaining afternoon's reading in which the authors whisk the reader all the way back to 1974 and all the nostalgia that entails – drive-ins, small town life, the pill, young love, high school, your first car and of course the supernatural. King remains one of the absolute masters of the coming-of-age tale, spiced with the otherworld, and he blends both majestically in a similar fashion that he did with the highly underrated Joyland, which is set in a similar period.
Gwendy is a slightly chubby and self-conscious girl who wants to lose weight before starting middle school, so she daily runs up a set of very steep steps known as the Suicide Stairs. One morning she meets a strange man called Richard Farris who gives her a button box; she knows she shouldn't take it, but Farris nevertheless convinces her. It looks a bit like a jewellery box, but has properties which are far from normal and in their own spooky way help Gwendy. The buttons and levers on the box have different functions; pull one lever and it produces a tiny piece of chocolate. The chocolate tastes beautiful and has properties which are crucial to the development of the plot. A further lever gives Gwendy a valuable silver dollar from 1891 and there are other buttons which are even more sinister. Of all the Castle Rock novels, it reminds me most of Needful Things, indeed, it's the type of item you'd probably find for sale in that nasty little shop…
As it's a coming-of-age story, it follows Gwendy from around aged eleven right through high school, and throughout the tale her button box remains an important part of her life. Gwendy doesn't really understand why, nor does she question whether her success in life is influenced in some way by the box or her long-term obsession with it. In King's astonishing body of work, this will most likely be seen as a filler and will undoubtedly turn up in future collections. I don't know enough about Chizmar to comment on how it fits into his writing, however, he is a well-known specialist on shorter fiction and to work with King must have been something special. It's also worth noting that this book is pretty child friendly and if you're interested in introducing a twelve-year-old to the mighty Stephen King and don't think he or she could manage his bigger books, this could be a wonderful introduction.