Why do I keep reading Stephen King? Why? I have catalogued my problems with him many times before, but I keep coming back. I blame The Colorado Kid, which I liked even after I'd started to realize what was wrong with Stephen King.
Gwendy's Button Box is another novella, and it's definitely tightly written, which is excellent. It was apparently begun by King, but he wasn't inclined to finish it, so it was finished/cowritten by Richard T. Chizmar, about whom I knew nothing. Apparently he's primarily a short story writer, which is not usually my thing (though horror stories are much more up my alley than literary ones). I can see how the ending isn't very King, but other than that, it's quite cohesive as a story.
Gwendy is 12 when she meets a strange man in the park who gives her a box. It's got buttons on it and a couple of levers. The box has strange powers that he doesn't explain well, and dispenses gifts that seem straightforward but aren't. And then he is gone, and Gwendy is the owner of the button box, and we follow her for the next ten years.
Some of the moments that King does--an old man connecting with a teenager, a kid's life woven into the fabric of her town--are lovely; he's so very good at his job. The hallmarks of his storytelling are all here.
Including this girl. Gwendy is a likeable character, a good person but not perfect (except, of course when she is, but no spoilers). But when Stephen King starts writing women, I should know better. I wasn't on the alert for it here, so I ended up getting frustrated when he talked about how Gwendy was too embarrassed to be seen in public in a bathing suit--even a one piece--until she got hot. There is no relationship with her body that isn't about being looked at by men, either desirably or undesirably--even though she's a track star, even though she's a soccer player, even in memories of childhood before boys were a thing.
The bad guy in the book is a creep in her class who is clearly evil by virtue of his teeth and his smell, who touches her inappropriately and who she slaps away ineffectually. Maybe that's supposed to be a 1970s thing, but when the creepiest guy in your class, whom you've never spoken to outside of school, pulls up in front of your house to leer at you and ask you to go driving with him, and you're Gwendy the gorgeous straight-A athlete, you don't make up excuses. You tell him to go away. Maybe you do it nicely, because you're not a jerk, or maybe you do it meanly, because he's a creeper, but you do not act like you owe him something. There are times when that exchange happens--on a date you agreed to go on; on a deserted street; places where the creep has the upper hand.
This wasn't a characterization choice; she is not meek at all. It's just a lack of knowledge of what to do with a female character, and a need to set her up to be assaulted later. It wasn't anywhere near the worst feminist WTF I've had even this month, but sigh. Just, sigh. Oh, Stephen King. I'm still trying.
Read for R.I.P. - Readers Imbibing Peril! I love the fall!
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