Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King


The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

⭐⭐⭐ Three Stars – An interesting read, but expected more

I’d like to start off by saying that I’m not a die-hard Stephen King fan and have read all of his books. What books I have read, I enjoyed and thought were pretty creepy, so when I saw this new novella by him, I had some high hopes. Mainly, I thought that because it’s a novella, it’ll be more fast paced with the action, but I ended up being pretty disappointed.

It was fast-paced, but not in the good way.

Throughout the 170 pages of this novella, we see the main character, Gwendy Peterson, grow from being in middle school to graduating college. Almost every chapter skipped ahead in time. While this growth may have been important to the storyline and seeing how her life changes because of this button box, this formatting made it impossible to connect with the characters. Connection in any genre is important, but especially in thrillers like this because you need to be scared for the character, and I just never found myself getting scared for her.

And speaking of scared, this was supposed be a thriller. I was thrilled… once, maybe twice in the whole book. The timeline skipped ahead a lot, but rather than introducing a new puzzle or thrilling event, it was a lot of mediocre little scenes as she’s growing up, like going to an arcade, or getting her first car. While these scenes were probably meant to develop the character and where she’s at in that point of time, it only contributed to the fact that you aren’t able to ever connect with her. We see her attitude and personality changing as she grows, but we don’t see the process. Imagine having a childhood friend that you see for five minutes every three years. Would you feel close to them?

Another aspect of the thrilling part that failed was the expectation of these chilling nightmares that the synopsis says Gwendy has. I think she had two nightmares and each nightmare was described in like two or three sentences. This is a Stephen King book. The king of nightmares and horrors, so to have these be the “nightmares” in the book, was pretty disappointing. Other than the nightmares, there are a few creepy exploratory scenes with the button box, but nothing that made me actually have chills.

This all leads up to the end. There’s one action-packed scene at the end that I really enjoyed, but shortly after that, it wraps up in a very non-epic way. Even the protagonist Gwendy, seemed indifferent about the whole thing. I’m sure she was actually much more horrified, but as I said before, I was never able to connect with her, so she seemed like a stranger to me.  

On the positive note, it was an interesting read. I was never “hooked” but I was intrigued. The concept of the storyline was very unique and the wording was beautifully written. There are references to real life events which I always enjoy because it makes the story feel more real.

In the end, though, I decided to give Gwendy’s Button Box three stars. It was an interesting read, but I definitely expected way more.

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