Two very gifted writers have combined their talents to produce this short novella.
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Two very gifted writers have combined their talents to produce this short novella, possibly aimed at the young-adult market. It is rumoured that Stephen King wrote the first part of Gwendy’s Button Box and then handed it to Richard Chizmar to finish. It is surprising they bothered, as the result is disappointing.
Gwendy’s Button Box takes place in King’s beloved Castle Rock, Maine. The story centres on Gwendy Peterson, whose unusual given name is the result of parental compromise: her father wanted to call her Gwendolyn and her mother wanted to call her Wendy. Otherwise there is nothing unusual about Gwendy, now aged 12, until she meets a man dressed in black who calls himself Richard Farris. Ardent readers of King’s novels will recall that The Judge in The Stand is also named Richard Farris; it is not clear if the reference is intended. What is clear is that the man in black singles Gwendy out as a suitable recipient, or perhaps guardian, of a button box.
This button box has eight push buttons and two levers. Gwendy learns that the left lever releases a small, beautifully crafted chocolate animal that is delicious to eat and yet helps control appetite – and has other marvellous benefits besides. Pulling the right lever releases a very valuable old coin. It never runs out of either of these. The eight individually coloured buttons each have a different function, mainly destructive. The black button, for instance, could destroy the world, while the red button can grant any wish.
This sets up the potential of a story with many possibilities. Instead, what the reader gets is a synopsis of Gwendy’s life for the next decade, as she progresses through the American education system as a successful and popular student in a fairly uneventful and conventional manner. Admittedly there are a few events involving the button box, including one resulting in some minor damage to the tourist amenities of Castle Rock, and one dramatic heart-wrenching episode involving Gwendy’s boyfriend.
But for the most part, the button box offers its magic chocolates and valuable coins to Gwendy while remaining hidden from the wider world. Gwendy guards it obsessively because she fears if anyone finds it they might push the black button and end everything. But any reader hoping for, or fearing, a sleepless night or a spine-chilling moment incited by the skilled inventiveness of King and Chizmar will be disappointed. The suspense created by what might happen if the button box were to fall into the wrong hands, or if Gwendy herself were to misuse it, is not sufficient to carry the story or maintain the reader’s interest. What a pity.
2 stars ★★
Gwendy's Button Box
By Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Publication date: 27 Jun 2017
Page count: 176
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton