Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

On Thursday 1st March it is world book day, and to mark it, I decided that my first blog post of 2018 (not to mention the first in about 4 months) would be a review of the latest book I have read from my favourite author, Stephen King.

To be clear, this isn’t his latest novel, just the most recent one I have read. It was published in May 2017 after King reached out to fellow horror writer Richard Chizmar for help finishing a short story. After a month toing and froing with the piece, the two finally had a finished novella on their hands.

The tale follows Gwendy Peterson, a 12-year-old girl growing up in 1974 Castle Rock. That summer, Gwendy spends every day running up the 305 “Suicide Stairs” to Castle View in order to lose a wee bit of weight. Being called “Goodyear” by Frankie Stone at school has made her both self-conscience and determined to shift her Goodyear Blimp appearance before the start of middle school.

It is on one of these runs when she first encounters the strange man in the black hat who asks her to sit and “palaver” with him. During this palaver, the man gives Gwendy the button box; a mahogany box with 8 coloured buttons on top, a small lever at each end, and a slot in the middle. When pulled, the levers dispense a small animal shaped chocolate and a valuable Morgan silver dollar. The chocolates help Gwendy lose weight and she saves the silver dollars to sell to a collector when needed.

Six of the buttons represent six continents, one of the buttons will do whatever she wants, and the last button (the black button) does everything – “The whole shebang. The big kahuna . . .”.

Gwendy’s life is pretty sweet after she’s gifted the button box. She loses weight, becomes popular, boys begin to notice her, and she becomes a star athlete. She continues to eat the chocolates and squirrel away the silver dollars, and she never touches any of the buttons . . . but her finger often hovers over the one that will do whatever she wants. Eventually, her curiosity gets the better of her and she presses that button. What happens coincides with a real life tragedy that happened on 18th November 1978, but was Gwendy Peterson responsible?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella – and it only took me an hour to finish it (45 minutes whilst my sons where in taekwondo, and the rest at home afterwards). It’s a simple yet imaginative story, with a likeable protagonist. The concept is interesting; a normal person given a seemingly normal object that they can use in any way to their advantage, but that can also cause absolute destruction. What if it fell into the hands of the wrong person? What if Gwendy was the wrong person? And why was Gwendy chosen?

“Stashed away in this world of ours,” Farris says, looking down at her, “are great arsenals of weapons that could destroy all life on this planet for a million years. The men and women in charge of them ask themselves that same question every day. It is you because you were the best choice of those in this place at this time. Take care of the box. I advise you not to let anyone find it, not just your parents, because people are curious. When they see a lever, they want to pull it. And when they see a button, they want to push it.”

Rating: 5/5

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