Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
The mysterious Richard Farris gives 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson a box imbued with buttons which may or may not have the power to affect each continent, and the lives of those in them. Gwendy is now tasked with looking after the box, an irrepressible tenure without apparent end, made attractive by the mystery surrounding its existence and influence, as well as the seemingly endless treats that she can gain by pulling on levers built into the box itself.
The mysterious power exuded by chocolate shaped animals and antique silver dollars the box gives up, ultimately defines Gwendy’s teens, enhancing physical and intellectual prowess. Yet what she gains by being beautiful, athletic and intelligent, she loses in an increasing sense of emotional and social isolation. Is this the work of the button box or the mere chaotic nuances of growing up?
As any proponent of the horror genre knows, King’s influence over the past 40 years is unequivocal, his style imitated beyond measure, and his ability to blend the everyday and the off-kilter: seemingly effortless. Gwendy’s Button Box uses tropes (mysterious figure in black, an innocuous gift destined to give both wonder and horror, the town of Castle Rock etc.) synonymous with King’s worlds, and the introduction of Cemetery Dance’s long-time editor, Richard Chizmar, makes for a sedate, yet engaging coming of age tale with a delightfully sinister undertone.
Gwendy’s tenure as keeper of the titular button box is played out in a jaunty third-person omniscient narrative which helps to seamlessly fuse writing styles, limiting the potential of jarring changes in style co-authored pieces such as this can sometimes incur. This should be a run-of-the-mill affair, yet there is a charm ascribed to the pacing and narrative that sweeps the reader along until this all feels as though you have experienced Gwendy’s term in office as a confidante.
The story ends on an upbeat note which feels right for the tone of the overall story, though the abrupt and ambiguous nature of the final scene may leave readers a little off-kilter, or perhaps lend weight to a follow-up tale.
Overall, this is a traditional King outing, and will certainly not disappoint the legion of fans enthralled by his justifiable grip on the genre. Chizmar’s contribution certainly adds to the tale’s telling, and a further collaboration would be welcomed by this reviewer at least.