Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar is a welcome home to Castle Rock party. Fans of Stephen King will be sad that the party is too short. Readers will finish this short novel feeling that their reading speed has increased dramatically. Maybe. Others might feel that they have been led on a short sprint in which they were not allowed to fall behind. OK. Either way, for voracious readers with reading completion anxiety, pick up this novel. It will not inhabit your TBR shelf and you will feel good about yourself. I left Castle Rock and went to the Richard Chizmar author web page at Amazon. Another great storyteller discovered (for me).
Readers first meet a pre-middle schooler Wendy, a generously proportioned student who cannot quite see her running sneakers. She wants to lose weight before entering seventh grade. If she succeeds, she might be able to escape the nickname “Blimp.” While on an exercise run up the ominously named suicide stairs, she meets an older, almost non-threatening older man in a black hat who invites, almost demands, her sit down, listen to his offer and accept a gift. The beautiful wooden box she will receive has eight buttons and a couple of levers. Pulling or pushing these will produce consequences either positive or negative.
Richard Farris will never give Wendy a complete explanation of the rewards or punishments associated with ownership of the box. Once given to Wendy, the box is hers. Richard will have no further input. But he will be watching. Already I have creepy feelings about what is going on here. Of course, I am curious about the box and what the buttons and levers can do. But this entire opening sequence is creepy for another reason. Or maybe it is just sad that a pre-seventh grade student should be so aware of the dangers of talking to weird older guys sitting on a park bench offering gifts with no apparent return demands and then deciding to do it anyway.
Due to the immediate gratification offered by the box through chocolate, Wendy accepts the box and the burden of keeping it hidden from others. She returns home and the rest of the tale will track her life through high school graduation. The box is always present, always affecting her life through either dream or waking life, and always well hidden. Her life is good, her grades are near-perfect, she is the best at all she attempts and life is good. She didn’t use the box to ask for anything, really. OK, there was the one time that didn’t work out well, but she hadn’t really consulted the box for any advice. Just the chocolate.
Everything is good. Wendy and empathetic readers should be happy. But questions remain. Is the box an active or passive agent in Wendy’s life? Even though she doesn’t continually consult the box, does it still have an effect on her life? Wendy’s life seems perfect but this may not be true. She is aware of some jealousy from close friends about Wendy’s life following her 100% winning record. One big question, can Wendy appreciate all her good fortune if there are absolutely no negatives to compare her good fortune with? And a final question. What’s up with the infrequently appearing black hat?
The novel is short, it’s fun (positives), it’s expensive (negative) but after a cost/benefit analysis I paid the price and was happy to do so. Now on to read Richard Chizmar.