Nightmares and Dreamscapes

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Stephen King has been a bestselling author for many years. He has proven himself to be the master of the modern horror genre. Being that horror fiction does not always get the respect it deserves in more illustrious literary circles, King has had to wage a never-ending battle against the slings and arrows of critics who find fault with his style of writing and who resent his enormous popularity with the reading public. King may never win the respect of all the literary critics with whom he has been at odds, but—thankfully—he has continued to grow as an author on what seems to be his own terms. NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES is his first short story collection since SKELETON CREW (1985). Most of the tales in the new collection have been previously published, but some are being published for the first time.

Always adept at portraying ordinary people who become caught up in unusual situations, King continues to paint recognizable people in NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES. Because the reader can see himself in the characters, the horror that inhabits each tale becomes all the more frightening. King writes with a vitality almost unmatched in genre fiction. He can be gross and crudely unfunny, but these are lapses that the reader forgives for the thrill of being scared senseless. The reader looking for subtlety may be put off by many of King’s genre tricks. The best stories will win over the curious reader who is looking for a good scare or even a bloodcurdling one. Such stories as “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” which tells of a couple who happen to stop in a small town that counts as its residents the dead legends of rock and roll, and “Sneakers,” which relates how a nondescript recording engineer is driven to possess a pair of sneakers that he has seen in the studio’s bathroom, show how King is capable of successfully mixing popular culture and horror and coming up with stories that speak volumes about contemporary America. NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES also includes a nonfiction piece, “Head Down,” a marvelous recounting of the fortunes of the little league baseball team on which King’s son was a pitcher. Originally published in THE NEW YORKER, “Head Down” reads as one of King’s most suspenseful stories.