Fans of Stephen King rejoiced to hear that he would be returning to his iconic setting of Castle Rock in Gwendy’s Button Box, a novella co-written with Richard Chizmar. Gwendy Peterson is given a box by a mysterious stranger. The box has a row of buttons and two levers. One lever dispenses coins; the other dispenses candies. The buttons do something else entirely.
Stephen King’s books have always been just as much about the human characters as they are about the supernatural goings-on, and Gwendy’s Button Box is no different. Gwendy has to deal with all the normal troubles of growing up: bullies, changing relationships with her friends, romance, and deciding what she wants to do with her life. The enigmatic box colors and perhaps influences some of these events, but the focus of the story always remains on Gwendy herself.
Many of King’s stories contain references to others, giving the sense that they’re all taking place in one interconnected universe. Castle Rock itself is of course a feature of King’s earlier work, and there are a couple of mentions of familiar names in this novella. However, King avoids having Button Box become too weighted down with Castle Rock’s rich past. The story lives in the present, maintaining a sense of immediacy that keeps the Constant Reader turning pages.
My one gripe with this story has to do with the box’s motivations. (Look, it’s a Stephen King book; talking about a box’s characterization is totally legitimate.) During the climactic struggle with Frankie, Gwendy notes that the normally light box suddenly becomes heavy enough to be used as a bludgeoning weapon, and suggests that this is because the box “wanted to be heavy.” But this is inconsistent with the ending of the story, which seems to imply that the box is a force for good. (And some people have pointed out that Richard Farris dresses in black and has the same initials as the Man in Black, a.k.a. Randall Flagg. Which implies that the box might not be a force for good. What I mean to say is, the narrative is giving mixed messages about the purpose and alignment of the box.)