A Box Full of Surprises: My Review of Gwendy’s Button Box

So, we are almost halfway through 2017.

And what a hell of a year it has been.;.

Well, the above is part of it, although this has really been a hell that has been a long time in the making…

But let me get back to the topic:  Hell!

And the good kind of hell.

Not talking about the kind that involves Cenobites, either!  I am not sure that I have the stamina to take that kind of hell!

No, I am talking about…

Wait for it…

Stephen King!

I mean, duh, right?  Is there any other kind of hell to talk about in this blog?

So yes, it is a hell of a year to be a Stephen King fan.

The television series The Mist will premiere soon.

The miniseries based on the novel Mr. Mercedes will also premiere this summer.

In August, our favorite gunslinger will finally come to life!

And September will see my childhood nightmare  a certain famous (or is it infamous) homicidal clown will star in his own movie, along with the gang of bad ass kids tasked to fight this clown.

We even get a second season of the show Stranger Things on October 31st (well played Duffer brothers, well played.)  I mean, it’s Stranger Things, which is a bonus King story, amirite?

In other words, we are in the era of Stephen King 2.0.

Is it 1987, or 2017?

I mean, the hair may be smaller, but that is about the only way I can tell the difference (well, the home decor is less tacky, maybe) between the two.

Once again, King is ubiquitous.  But then again, he is The Master, and that is what Masters do, when they aren’t doing other Master-y stuff, like getting blocked on Twitter by leaders of the free world who turn orange from the overdose on covfefe.  Or eating chocolate candy at an alarming rate.

(Wait, scratch that last part.  I put a little TMI about myself in this blog again, dammit!)

But anyway, it is the era of Stephen King 2.0.  And of course this nerdy blogger could not be happier!

Because, movies and TV shows!  And merchandise!

And oh, right…books!

We still have those coming out!  Books!

Like the latest King book, aka Gwendy’s Button Box.

But this is no ordinary King book (as if his books were ordinary anyway!)

This book is actually a collaboration between The Master and…

Another Master?

I think so!

Richard Chizmar teamed with King to write this novel…a gruesome twosome!

Seriously, a double threat much?

And this is one collaboration that is hellishly awesome, and one of my favorite short works in King’s extensive library.

So, without further ado, let us get down to business, so we can review and dissect Gwendy’s Button Box.

And, as always:

 

Synopsis

The story begins by introducing us to a 12 year old girl by the name of Gwendy Peterson.  Gwendy is an average 12 year old, except for the fact that she is overweight.  Because she is overweight, she has experienced some bullying from her peers.  Gwendy lives in the town of Castle Rock.  The year is 1974.

Because she has experienced bullying, Gwendy is motivated to lose weight.  She begins to exercise the summer before she enters middle school.  Her exercise consists of running up and down a set of stairs known as the Suicide Stairs.  The exercise is beginning to pay off, as Gwendy notices that she is starting to lose weight and has become more fit.

One day, as Gwendy is exercising, she notices a strange man sitting on a bench.  The man has sat on the same bench all week, reading a book.  It is August, but the man wears black jeans, a black coat, a white shirt and a small black hat.

The man beckons to Gwendy.  Gwendy reluctantly responds, as she fears the man may be a sexual predator of sorts.  The man introduces himself as Richard Farris.

Farris tells Gwendy that he travels the country, and that he is a wandering man, keeping an eye on certain people.  He also tells Gwendy that he has been watching her.

Farris observes that Gwendy is a little bit overweight.  Gwendy confesses her insecurity about her weight to Farris, and also the fact that other children have bullied her about her weight.

Gwendy is then offered a gift by Farris.  She tries to refuse, but is unable to, once Farris puts the gift in her hands.

The gift is a beautiful mahogany box.  Farris tells Gwendy that is a button box.

Farris also tells Gwendy that if she presses a lever on the box, the box will dispense a piece of chocolate in the shape of an animal.  Gwendy protests, but Farris tells her that if she eats this chocolate, she will be satisfied and have no further urge to snack.

Per Farris’ invitation, Gwendy tries the lever.  The box dispenses a small piece of chocolate in the shape of a rabbit.  Gwendy eats the chocolate, and is no longer hungry, but completely satisfied.

Gwendy then pulls another lever on the other side of the box.  The box dispenses a silver dollar, minted in 1891.  Gwendy is astonished, and attempts to give the coin back to Farris.  Farris tells her to keep it, as anything that the box dispenses her is now hers.

Farris then shows Gwendy the other buttons on the box, and tells her each button represents a continent.  All continents are represented, except for Antartica.  Farris also tells her that the red button is the only button that  can be used more than once, and also that the black button somehow mysteriously represents “everything.”

After explaining the workings of the box to Gwendy, Farris leaves, but tells Gwendy to keep the box safe, and to not tell anyone, even her parents, about her new gift.

Before he leaves, Farris asks Gwendy why the stairs are called the Suicide Stairs.  Gwendy tells him that there have been a few suicides committed on those stairs over the years, but that city council has refused to destroy the structure.

Farris makes his way down the stairs, but leaves his hat behind.  When Gwendy returns to the stairs later that day, the hat has vanished.

When she returns home, Gwendy hides the box, along with the silver dollar, in a shallow cavern beneath the oak tree in her backyard.  This is the one place that Gwendy is certain that her mother will not find the box.

That evening, Gwendy eats dinner with her family.  Much to her parents’ surprise, she refuses a piece of chocolate cake, as she does not feel the urge to snack.

The next morning, Gwendy does her normal exercises.  When she returns home, she eats another chocolate, this one in the shape of a turtle.  Once again, Gwendy is satisfied, and does not feel the urge to snack.

That weekend, Gwendy visits relatives and friends, like a normal weekend.  However, she is relieved to come back home, and makes sure that no one has taken her box.

A few months later, Gwendy starts middle school.  She is no longer bullied, as she has lost weight.  She also notices that she is attracting the attention of more than a few boys.

One day in history class, Gwendy’s teacher, Ms. Chiles, tells the students to ask her a question of historical significance, and she will try to answer the questions.

Gwendy then asks her teacher if she was able to press a button and destroy someone or something, would she do it?  And who or what would she try to destroy?

Ms. Chiles is a little taken aback, but the question sparks a lively class discussion.  Later, Ms. Chiles congratulates Gwendy, as the question made for an interesting class discussion.

Ms. Chiles also notes that it is a good thing that a button with that ability did not actually exist.  Gwendy corrects her teacher, stating that the president of the United States and all of the world’s leaders actually do possess that sort of power, as most have access to nuclear weapons.

The following summer, Gwendy discovers that she does not need her glasses anymore.  Her mother is skeptical, but the doctor confirms that Gwendy’s vision has improved, and she does not need to wear her glasses.

The years go by, and Gwendy’s life only continues to improve.  She becomes one of the prettiest and most popular students at her school, and also becomes a track star, along with class president.  Her parents’ marriage improves, as both stop drinking and become more loving to each other.  Gwendy continues to think about Farris, and wonders if the box is responsible for the good fortune in her life.

One night, Gwendy is taking out the trash and a boy named Frank pulls up to her driveway.  Frank was one of the students who had previously bullied Gwendy, but he want to take her for a ride in his car.  Gwendy refuses, and Frank throws a bottle at her, which upsets Gwendy.

That night, Gwendy dreams of injuring Frank, breaking his left arm.  The next morning, she wakes up and only briefly remembers the dream.

However, Gwendy recalls the dream again a couple of weeks later, when she receives news that Frank was injured in an accident, and that his left arm was broken.

Gwendy’s good fortune continues, as she becomes even more popular and successful in high school.  However, she begins to ignore her best friend Olive.  Olive becomes upset and refuses to speak to Gwendy.

One day, Gwendy becomes curious about the red button.  She decides to experiment, and researches some small South American countries.  She finally pushes the button.  Nothing immediately happens, although Gwendy begins to feel ill.

That night, Gwendy notices that her parents are watching television, and seem extremely concerned.  A cult leader in Guyana, Jim Jones, has forced his followers to drink poison, therefore killing themselves.  Hundreds of people die, including children.  Guyana was one of the countries that Gwendy researched.

Eventually, Gwendy decides that she wants to try to sell the silver coins dispensed by the box.  Her goal is to obtain money to attend an Ivy League school.  She finds a buyer in a man named Lenny, and he buys the coins from her.  As she leaves the expo, she is harassed by Frankie, who has followed her.  However, Lenny chases Frankie and his friends away, and Gwendy escapes.

Gwendy’s run of extraordinary luck continues.  She continues to excel at track, and receives good grades in her school work, despite the fact the she does not study.  Gwendy suspects that the box is responsible for this, and sometimes wishes she was still friends with Olive, so that she could talk to her about the box.

When Gwendy turns 17, she obtains her driver’s license, and her parents surprise her with the gift of a used car.  Gwendy also obtains her first part time job, working at the concessions counter of a movie theater. Gwendy still thinks about the box, and wonders if the box is responsible for every tragedy or disaster that occurs in the world.

A tragedy occurs the last week of Gwendy’s junior year:  Olive, her former best friend, commits suicide by jumping off the Suicide Stairs.  Gwendy is overcome with sadness and guilt, and blames herself for her friend’s death.

Gwendy is also determined that no one else will ever take his/her life via those stairs, and resolves to do something.  She presses the red lever of the box, and the stairs are destroyed.  The local authorities are not able to offer an explanation, but Gwendy knows that her actions are responsible for the destruction of the stairs.

Gwendy attends Olive’s funeral, and is comforted by Olive’s father.  She is grief-stricken, but carries on with her life the best she can.

Eventually, Gwendy’s life takes a turn for the better, when she meets a young man named Harry Streeter.  Harry asks Gwendy out on a date, and the two fall in love and become inseparable.

The box is still never far from Gwendy’s mind, even though she does not use it and does not eat the chocolates it dispenses.  Gwendy notices that she has gained six pounds, and does not do as well in track as she normally has in the past.  Gwendy also earns two B’s on her report card for the first time.  However, none of that matters to her, as she is the happiest she has ever been.

One morning, Gwendy wakes up to find herself clutching the box.  The box dispenses a chocolate, but Gwendy refuses it.  She stores the box in its secret hiding spot, and tries to forget about it.

Gwendy and Harry fly a kite one spring afternoon.  Much to Gwendy’s horrified surprise, she spots a black hat nearby.  Harry does not notice the hat.

Graduation week approaches, and Gwendy and Harry are excited for their future, as the two plan to attend nearby colleges, along with attending several celebrations for the respective graduations.

Gwendy is deciding on a dress to wear one night.  She is spending her evening with Harry.  Gwendy walks to her closet and opens it.  Frankie is hiding in her closet, and attacks Gwendy.  Gwendy also notices that Frankie has found the button box, as several silver coins are scattered nearby.

Harry scuffles with Frankie.  Frankie grabs the box and hits Harry on the head with it, killing Harry instantly.

Gwendy is horrified, and attacks Frankie.  Frankie attacks Gwendy with a knife, stabbing her foot.  Gwendy presses the red button of the box, and screams at Frankie to rot in hell.

A few years later, Gwendy has graduated from college.  She has lost part of her foot due to the injury she sustained in the attack against Frankie, but is otherwise doing well.  She kept the box with her throughout college, occasionally eating the chocolates and using the silver dollars to pay for her college expenses.  Gwendy plans to spend the summer in Castle Rock with her family, before attending graduate school.  She aspires to become a writer.

That night, Gwendy wanders to the kitchen for a snack.  Much to her horror, she notices a black hat.  She then encounters Richard Farris.

Farris congratulates Gwendy on her accomplishments.  He also asks Gwendy what really happened the night Harry died.

Gwendy tells Farris that Frankie literally rotted in front of her.  She had pressed the red button again, and his body disappeared afterwards.  Gwendy also told the local authorities that Frankie ran away, with the murder weapon.

Gwendy tells Farris that she is responsible for the mass suicide in Jonestown, along with Olive’s death.  Farris denies this, telling her that Jim Jones was a crazy man.  He also informs her that Olive was doomed anyway, as she was driven to suicide by her stepfather, who was molesting her.

Farris tells Gwendy that he has come to take the box from her, and that she has been a good guardian for it.  He tells her that the box has prevented several potential tragedies, due to the fact that Gwendy never had any evil intent.  Farris tells Gwendy that she will become a famous writer, and live a long, productive life, and that her death will be quick and painless, and that she will be surrounded by friends.

Farris takes the box and disappears into the night.  Gwendy finishes her snack, and thinks that she will write a book.  She walks back into the living room, and finds another silver dollar.  Gwendy laughs, and puts the coin in her pocket.

My Thoughts

Whew, what a ride.

Now, granted, this was more of a Sunday afternoon drive, as a opposed to a days long road trip.

Being a Constant Constant Reader, I am used to the days long road trip.  I expect it even, when I open up a King book.

The first King book I read was It.  That one is over 1000 pages.

11/22/63 and The Stand are also favorites of mine.  The Stand (the uncut version) is King’s longest work.  11/22/63 is no slouch either, in terms of length.

But, I do enjoy the Sunday afternoon drive as well.

Face, it’s Stephen King.  Pretty much any Stephen King is welcomed by me!

And King is also a master at penning shorter works.

Skeleton Crew is a collection of these shorter works, and contains gems such as The Mist, The Jaunt and Word Processor of the Gods.

Everything’s Eventual is another great collection of shorter work.  It includes 1408, The Man in the Black Suit and The Little Sisters of Eluria.

And now we have Gwendy’s Button Box, aka proof that big things can come in small packages.

Gwendy’s Button Box was short, but this Constant Constant Reader found lots to like about it.

Let’s start off with the title character, Gwendy.

Now, I may be an old lady fast approaching my last year in my 30’s, but I remember being an adolescent like it was yesterday.

Of course, King is well known for writing childhood.  It is one of his strengths as a writer, especially in books like The Shining, It, Dreamcatcher and quite a few others.

But, we have a partner in the game with Gwendy’s Button Box, in Richard Chizmar.

There was such an air of authenticity about Gwendy, and I figure King’s partner in crime is probably responsible for at least some of that.

Writing women has been a sort of mixed back for King in the past, as he has had some hits (Beverly Marsh) and some misses (Susan Norton.)

Gwendy is a definite hit.

When we are introduced to Gwendy, we learn that she is bullied, and quite conscious of her weight.  She wants to fit into our culture’s definition of beauty, and will take any help that she can get.

And help does come to her, although in an unexpected form.

Yes, it is time to talk about it…

The elephant in the room, so to speak.

Actually, not an elephant, exactly.

(Although I am sure he could provide you with a tiny chocolate one, by Gan.)

Yep, the man (and I use that word VERY loosely) who we all love to hate…

The jerk of the hour…

Ladies and germs, I give you Mr. Richard Farris!

Or, if you still don’t get it…

RF!

Those initials.

Those initials have been the scourge of the King universe for a long, long time.

Randall Flagg.  I will be addressing him as that in this blog entry, because…well…I am the most familiar with that moniker, although I know of several others, including the latest one, of Richard Farris.

Now, Flagg can only be described as an inter-dimensional pest.

He has shown up in so many worlds in the King multi verse.  And in so many different time periods.

In fact, there are quite a few flavors of Flagg available.  He is actually similar to the evil wizard version of Baskin Robbins, I suppose.

There is Flagg in The Stand.  He wears a jean jacket and the clack of his dust boot heels as he walks the deserted roads ought to make you shudder, if you know what’s good for you.

We have The Eyes of the Dragon Flagg.  Doesn’t wear a jean jacket, but chooses to go with the more traditional evil wizard garb.  And does traditional evil wizard things, like poison kings and frame said king’s son for the murder, in order to ensue chaos, because…well…chaos.

Flagg also shows up in The Dark Tower series, the series considered to be King’s magnum opus, as one of the primary antagonists.  He is also more the flavor of evil wizard in this series, along with a side of extreme cruelty, who ends up getting his just desserts (see what I did there?)

Flagg even shows up in seemingly unrelated works, such as Hearts in Atlantis and Children of the Corn (maybe.)  The topsy-turvy world of Richard Bachman may not even be immune to Flagg, as a so-called mysterious dark man makes an appearance at the end of The Long Walk.

So of course it makes sense that Flagg would show up in the town of Castle Rock.  After all, this town has seen the likes of George Stark and Leland Gaunt, along with a guy who can touch people and read their futures, and an unfortunate, rabid St. Bernard.  So Flagg making an appearance is not that unusual, at least for Castle Rock.

What was a bit unusual was this version of Flagg.

Sure, there was a bit of menace.  And blacks hats.  Don’t get me started on those…

Well, never mind.  I was young and innocent before 2016, and black hats may have scared me back then.  But now I am wiser to the ways of the world, and somehow black hats don’t seem that menacing.

And this version of Flagg was actually not that frightening.  He made me uneasy (like Gwendy) but there was something different in regards to this flavor of Flagg.

I did get more of a creepy uncle vibe from this version of King’s ultimate uber villain.  I could be in the same room with, but I sure would not want to sit next to him.

There were also instances where he appeared to comfort Gwendy, in his own way, such as telling her that she could not blame herself for the suicide of Olive, as Olive was molested by her father, and neither Gwendy nor the box was responsible for that one.

Which brings me to my next point.

Gwendy’s Button Box had a lot to say on responsibility, and the fact of actions having consequences.

Through the stories, things happen.  Actually, quite a few bad things happen.

Sometimes, the box is obviously responsible.

When Gwendy tells that disgusting creep Frankie to rot in hell, and pushes the button on the box, the box obliges her.  And Frankie suffers a fate that is literally worse than death.

(At this point, I was pretty glad that the book was NOT of the scratch and sniff variety.  I mean, can you imagine?  Ew much?)

At other times, however, it is not so clear cut, such as the case with Olive, who was in fact molested by her father, and the lines become blurred.

Gwendy researches countries in South America.  Shortly after her stint in the library, we have the Jonestown Massacre.  Jim Jones convinces hundreds of people (many of them children) to drink poison, and there are also hundreds of deaths.

Jim Jones was mentally unstable, but did he receive prompting from some outside force?  Perhaps he encountered a man in a mysterious black hat before he committed his evil act.  Again, at least in this story, the lines become blurred.

There is also the death of Harry Streeter.  Was that some kind of payback from the box?  After all, the box somehow became heavy enough for Frankie to use it to crush poor Harry’s skull (another gruesome death in a King book.)

But, as our friend RF so judiciously points out, Frankie was under suspicion for some other crimes, which included rape.  So was it coincidental?  Or did Frankie, like Jim Jones, receive a bit of “outside influence” as well?  Fascinating to speculate on, although we can never really know (which is just one of the brilliant parts about this book.)

Another brilliant part in regards to this book was how the story seemed to mature, just like its protagonist, even right up to the end.

At the beginning, Gwendy is a child.  However, she is forced into adulthood the very moment when she receives that box from the mysterious, somewhat menacing stranger.

At first, Gwendy is dependent on that box.

She loses weight due to the chocolates.

She gets good grades without studying.

Gwendy becomes more confident, and attractive to others, due to her weight loss.

And because she has become more confident, Gwendy realizes the hold that the box has on her, and attempts to break free of the box.

In other words, Gwendy begins to grow up.

When we grow up, we sometimes have to put away things from our childhood.

This is a process that starts during the teen years, and continues for several more years, even into our twenties.  And for most people, the process is at least somewhat painful.

When Gwendy first receives the box, she is 12 years old.  She is not quite a child, and not quite an adult, hovering on that equator between the two.

Gwendy receives the box at an age where peer approval is important, and body image is an issue.  And I am sure this was not a coincidence.  In fact, as another famous King character might say:  Coincidence has been canceled, sugar.

As Gwendy leaves childhood and makes her first steps into the world of adulthood, she experiences pleasures, such as becoming popular, getting her first job, learning to drive and falling in love for the first time.

However, Gwendy also experiences quite a bit of pain.

She learns of evil in the world when she watches the news coverage in regards to Jim Jones and his followers.

Her best friend commits suicide.  Gwendy destroys the staircase responsible for the death of her friend, but the damage has already been done.

Gwendy falls in love for the first time, and that pain is eased a bit.

However, her happiness does not last for long, as a childhood bully murders Gwendy’s first love.  Again, Gwendy is forced to face adulthood, as she mourns the loss of love, and the fact that she had to resort to murder to protect herself.

These events force Gwendy to become to reach for a strength that her 12 year old self could never comprehend.

And, at the end, Gwendy has grown up.  She realizes that in order to be happy, sometimes there has to be tragedy.  And that eventually, we all have to let go of our childhood, and become fully fledged adults.

Gwendy becomes an adult on the night of her college graduation.  But this is not due to the fact that she graduated from college, and was ready to continue her journey into “the real world.”

She handed over that box to the man in the black hat, and did so willingly.  She let go of her childhood without a fight, and therefore embraced adulthood.

Well, that’s it for Gwendy’s Button Box.

Join me in the upcoming weeks and months, as I continue my King journey.

The Mist hits the screen.

We will get to see Pennywise on the big screen.

Our favorite gunslinger will finally get the screen treatment he deserves.

And there is still plenty in the world of King that needs to be reviewed and dissected.

So, as always…

Tune in next month…

Same bat time, same bat channel!

Gwendy’s Button Box may be short and sweet, as well as also being a creation of Richard Chizmar, but it is still set in the Stephen King Universe, and is connected to King’s other work.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-One of the major connections is the town of Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is the setting for numerous King novels and short stories, including Needful Things, Cujo, The Dark Half, The Body and The Dead Zone.

-The other major connection found in Gwendy’s Button Box is the character of Richard Farris.  Richard Farris is obviously an incarnation of Randall Flagg, one of King’s uber-villains.  Randall Flagg is a character (and usually a villain) in many King stories, including The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Dark Tower series (including The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole and the final book of the series), the collection Hearts in Atlantis (in the title story) and possibly even Children of the Corn.  Flagg’s appearance in Gwendy’s Button Box may have paved the way for the appearance of Leland Gaunt in the book Needful Things, a story which takes place many years later.

-Mention is made of Sheriff Bannerman.  Bannerman is a character in the novels Cujo and The Dead Zone, and also makes an appearance in the novella The Body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “A Box Full of Surprises: My Review of Gwendy’s Button Box

  1. I’ve been looking around, and no one else seems to have come to this conclusion, but I’ll throw it out there….

    The Black Button on Gwendy’s Box is ultimately responsible for the plague in The Stand… the end of it all. Since Gwendy was too mature to use the box irresponcibly, Flagg takes it back to give to another kid whom he hopes will ultimately press the button.

    As The Stand is being remade now, it occurs to me that it might actually show what ultimately triggered Captain Trips and how RF had a hand in ending the world. This could be King laying the groundwork for an intro scene in the movie.

    Like

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