Stephen King and Richard Chizmar ask an interesting question with Gwendy's Button Box

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"If you had a magic button that could kill anyone or destroy any place, would you use it?"

Whenever Stephen King has a new book out, it’s a pretty big deal for me.  Thanks to my mom, I have been a huge King fan since I was way too young to appreciate his books.  Not knowing much about Richard Chizmar, I was a little hesitant to pick this one up.  But, I have enjoyed King’s collaborations in the past with authors like Peter Straub, Stewart O'Nan, and Joe Hill. Besides, unlike some other authors (looking at you, James Patterson), King isn't inclined to just throw his name on a book.  If it says he co-wrote it, then he co-wrote it.

Quick little note before we get into the review: Stephen King’s next book is a collaboration, too.  This time, he will be co-writing with his son Owen on a book set in a women’s prison called SLEEPING BEAUTIES.  This is supposed to be released in September.  I really liked Owen King’s work on INTRO TO ALIEN INVASION, so I am looking forward to that one.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Hardcover - $25 ($16.48 on Amazon)
Kindle - $6.99
Published by Cemetery Dance Publications
180 Pages

GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX starts with a mysterious man in black approaching 12-year old Gwendy Paterson in Castle Rock in 1974.  He puts her in custody of a small wooden box. The box has two levers. One lever dispenses a piece of chocolate that gets rid of hunger and makes the eater faster, stronger, smarter, and more attractive; the other gives money.  The button also features 8 buttons.  One for each continent (except Antarctica), a red one for “user’s choice,” and a black button which is “the whole shebang.”  The man never directly explains what the buttons do, but Gwendy immediately understands that by pushing the button, she would cause some massive harm to someplace or some one.  And if she ever pushed the black button (she refers to it as the cancer button), it would be the end of the world. To test it out, she uses the Red Button on the far off land of Guyana, which causes the Jonestown Massacre.  

To be honest, when I started this book and realized that the man in black was reoccuring King villain Randall Flagg (using the alias Richard Ferris), I was expecting a lot more messed up book than we got.  There was potential for some really deep moral discussions in this book, but in the end Gwendy is pretty even tempered, which ended up making me feel like the great concept for the book didn’t quite play out to its full potential.  I actually think the main problem in the narrative is the “magic chocolates.”  Gwendy’s life ends up pretty charmed, so she never has any real reason to cause mischief with the Button Box until the very end of of the book. Without giving the ending away, I don’t think anyone would argue that her actions there was 100% justified.   

This is also a very fast read.  I only paid $6 for it on Kindle, but the hardcover retails for $25.  It took me less than 2 hours to read this entire book.  Granted “how long it takes you to read a book” has very little to do with enjoyment, but I still want to feel like I got my money’s worth.  IF I had paid $25 for this book, I would have felt let down.  

I know it sounds like I am really down on this book, but I actually did enjoy it quite a bit.  Gwendy was a terrific character, especially since so much fiction is so cynical these days.  Instead of seeing a child suffer through her parents' divorce, the magic in her life actually makes their lives better too.  I really liked that.  I also thought that her problem solving ability on how to hide the box and what to do about the money that came from the box were both cleverly done.  And her grief and guilt over a friend’s death felt real too.  By the end of the book, you understand Gwendy very well.

Like all of King’s work, the writing was very engaging.  For the most part, this book is ten years of Gwendy’s life from when she gets the box to when Farris returns to take it off her hands.  We follow her through good times and bad times, and even just a lot of normal growing up times.  One thing I have always enjoyed about King is that he can make the most mundane things connect immediately to the reader’s life.  That is one of the real strengths here too.  

People often describe books as “can’t put them down.”  This one fit that category, and since it was short enough, you really can get through it without having to put it down.  I would never call this one of my favorite Stephen King books, but the idea was intriguing, and the book was very well written.   For me, I would rather read even an average Stephen King more than I would just about anything else.

And the book has really stuck with me since I read it.  I can’t help but wonder if I would be even half the good custodian Gwendy was.  I like to think of myself as a good person, but we all have our bad days...

4.0 / 5.0