My mom had a button box. I used to paw through it, looking for shiny mother-of-pearl, and iridescent bits of abalone. When I got older, that button box became mine (though it’s more a button mason jar now), but I still love it. There’s a few non-button items in there now; a small dreidel from a friend’s holiday party years ago, a spider ring from a forgotten Halloween, and some beach stones I’ve never been able to part with. But Gwendy Peterson has a different kind of button box. And let’s just say that it’s a long way away from anything I’ve got lying around. Thank goodness for that.
King and Chizmar have fashioned a tale that’s as easy to read as anything King has written; that man is an expert storyteller, and his superb talent is in full effect here. Sadly, I’ve never read anything by Chizmar, but after Box, that’ll definitely change. Because their tale of 12-year-old Gwendy , a chubby kid who’s just trying to get herself healthy (and let’s face it, stop the teasing her heartless/clueless classmates dump on her), is a delightful slow burn of disquiet and dread.
As Gwendy does her daily walk/run up her neighborhood’s “Suicide Stairs” in Castle Rock, Maine (yep, that Castle Rock), she meets Richard Ferris, a man dressed a black suit coat and black hat. He wants to show her something, and despite her initial misgivings, she decides to go have a look. What he shows her is a “button box”, but nothing like folks have to collect old and excess buttons. Nope. This one’s special, and Ferris gives it to her with a simple “because you were the best choice of those in this place at this time.” With that, Gwendy begins a journey that takes her through morality, fear, shock, disgust, and hope. Think of her as a pint-sized Pandora who has a box she’s got to keep track of in her own way. (More than that, and I’ll be spoiling things for you. And believe me, you don’t want that. You’ll want to take this journey with Gwendy on your own.)
Box is a lovely blend of growing-up tale, hero’s journey, and unsettling creep that weaves in and out of each chapter never letting you really figure out what’s going on. It’s an expertly crafted tale that’s done so well I’d forgotten it was a story I was reading, and instead I felt as if I was sitting down with a few friends on a front porch, while a few guys were telling me a tale I couldn’t stop listening to.
As a King fan, I couldn’t help but wonder if Farris was an incarnation of The Walking Dude, or Leland Gaunt from Needful Things. But Farris is of a slightly different stripe, even though it’s Castle Rock, Maine we’re talking about. Could be any number of people, or things. But what’s for sure is that this novel – clocking in at 168 pages – is a treat for fans of King’s favorite town. It’s a treat for anyone who loves a tale well told. I’m reminded of horror stories that have a slow burn but end up chilling you anyway, like The Lottery, and King’s own The Dark Half or The Dead Zone. Throw in King’s ability to channel the thoughts and feelings of teens and tweens, and more than a little dread, and you’ve got a story that won’t take you long, but will linger in your mind for quite some time after.
If this is how King and Chizmar work together? I’m hoping this will be the start of a beautiful friendship.