Settle in… we’re gonna be here awhile.
I’ve read Nightmares and Dreamscapes more than any other King book, be it collection or novel. There are many reasons for this. The easiest to explain is that this was the most easily accessible of King’s collections for me. It came in the mail through the Stephen King Library (those of you who’ve followed my Decades with King posts will know the story of how I used to steal my mother’s packages out of the mailbox once a month) while Night Shift and Skeleton Crew were locked up in the Great Book Closet because they were, to quote my mother, “Too scary for her pumpkin.” Hey, stop laughing!
Anyfloop, that’s the easiest to explain.
The harder answer is that I was in a horrible place when this book came out. I needed the escapism. And while this is not my favorite of King’s collections (that would be his first, Night Shift) I believe it is the perfect place to start if you plan on giving Stephen King a try. It has on display everything people love and hate about him: his verbosity, his humor, his mastery of mimicry, his eclectic nature, his massive successes, and his most stunning failures. Some of my favorite stories are collected in this book. As are some of the worst stories I’ve read. Anything King writes about baseball I hate. Loathe is actually a better word. My father was a huge baseball fan, and Dad was one of the main reasons my teens were so awful.
This is my first time listening to these stories. In the past, I had always read them. My opinions haven’t changed much as far as best and worst, but I have a better appreciation for stories like “The Doctor’s Case” and “Sorry, Right Number” due to the exemplary performances by their narrators. Tim Curry does two tales in this collection and both of them are marvelous. (I think that’s the first time I’ve used the word “marvelous” in a review and I regret nothing.) And then you have absolutely horrible narration brought to you by Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson’s voice on the Simpsons) whose performance is laughable because of who she sounds like by default (the story she narrates is good, but it’s brought down a whole star by her goofy-ass voice), and Joe Mantegna, who completely phoned in his performance; his child voices are the worst I’ve heard. Not some of the worst, but the absolute worst. He sounded like an adult making fun of how a kid sounds. I can only guess he was asked to do this because he played a part in Thinner around the same time this book was published and they were contractually obligated to use his dry delivery, which is completely void of give-a-fuck, because they’d already paid him… or something. Anyway, Mantegna’s narration is garbage. Probably in my top five worst performances, up there with everything William Hurt has ever read.
Below, you will find a story-by-story review of this Nightmares and Dreamscapes‘s audiobook series. I tried to keep it to one sentence per but… well, you’ll see. If you make it to the bottom, all the way to the Notes section, you’ll get some insider info on me. Or, you know, you can skip ahead to that, or not read it at all. Whatever floats your balloon animal.
Part One of this three-part audiobook series:
“Suffer the Little Children”, as read by Whoopi Goldberg, gets three stars for rehashing that old Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot horror authors are so fond of.
“Crouch End”, as read by Tim Curry, is one of the best audiobook performances I’ve heard, and the story deserves every single star I can give it because it’s creepy-good.
“Rainy Season”, as read by Lisa Simpson… I mean, Yeardley Smith, gets four stars for being weird enough to make me giggle and cringe at the same time.
“Dolan’s Cadillac”, as read by Nick Andros himself, Rob Lowe, doesn’t hold up to a second reading, and has become as tedious and as boring as a twice told joke. I’m giving it two stars for this reread. This one really hurts because I loved this story the first time around. Now I can’t remember why. Rob Lowe did a great job, though.
“The House on Maple Street”, as read by Tabitha King, gets four stars for being a neat little tribute to Ray Bradbury while being its own thing too.
“Umney’s Last Case”, as narrated by the one and only Robert P. Parker, is a piece of metafiction that showcases nods to King’s heroes and a few mentions of some of his real life friends, but only manages to be three star’s worth of entertaining.
One star to both “Head Down”, as read by Stephen King, and “Brooklyn August”, as narrated by Stephen J. Gould, because I give not a single fuck for baseball. I hate all sports in general (Hockey is okay), but I loathe baseball most of all.
Part Two of this three-part audiobook series.
“Chattery Teeth”, as narrated by Annie Wilkes herself, Kathy Bates, gets all five stars and remains one of my favorite stories of all time.
“My Pretty Pony”, as read by the late Jerry Garcia, gets four stars for explaining the ever quickening passage of time in a touching story about a grandfather and his grandson.
“Sneakers”, as narrated by David Cronenberg, has four-star’s worth of creepitude going on. I forgot how much I liked this story. Cronenberg’s narration made it even better than I remember. Wish it had a better ending, though.
“Dedication”, as read by Lindsay Crouse, is two stars worth of voodoo that doesn’t really go anywhere.
“The Doctor’s Case”, as narrated by Tim Curry, see’s King tackle Sherlock Holmes in this two-star outing because it seems that all authors must tackle Holmes at some point… or something. Tim Curry makes this story bearable.
“The Moving Finger”, as narrated by Eve Beglarian, gets three stars for being about a finger in a drain.
“The End of the Whole Mess”, as narrated by Ferris Bueller, gets five stars for Matthew Broderick’s performance.
“Home Delivery”, as narrated by Uncle Stevie himself, gets five stars for having an axe-wielding pregnant woman.
Part Three of this three part audiobook series.
“It Grows on You”, as narrated by Stephen King, gets a single star for boring me to tears.
“The Fifth Quarter”, as read by Gary Sinise, is three-star’s worth of crime fiction.
“You Know They Got A Hell of a Band”, as read by Grace Slick, gets five stars for having a concept so cool I don’t need air conditioning.
“The Night Flier, as read by Frank Muller, gets five big ones for being one of the only vamp stories I can stomach.
“Popsy”, as read by Joe Mantegna, gets two stars for being ruined by the narrator.
“Sorry, Right Number”, as read by a full cast, gets as many stars as I can throw at it. I haven’t been that unsettled in a long time. The audiobook is the way to go with this story. *makes sure phone’s turned off*
“The 10 O’Clock People”, as read by Joe Morton, gets four stars because I used to be chained to the same habit.
Notes, as read by Stephen King, is probably my favorite part about this book. Open you copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes and read the notes in the back (if you’ve read all the stories, of course) and you’ll see why I decided to start publishing my fiction. I’d been writing since I was six, but this notes section made me believe I could make it somewhere with my imagination. King thinks some of his work is shit? You don’t say! Nightmares & Dreamscapes made me want to show the world my creativity, and On Writing taught me how. If you don’t like my stuff, blame King for inspiring me.
“The Beggar and the Diamond”, as read by Domenic Cuskern, is a lovely story King’s long time friend, Surendra Patel told him once upon a when. Hardcore King followers might remember a character named Surendra Patel in Pet Sematary. Not sure when Patel passed, but Under the Dome is dedicated to him. Long day and pleasant nights.
In summation: I love and hate this book. For all the reasons stated above, I can only give it three stars, but it will forever be the book that got me through a tough time. It didn’t necessarily save my life, but it took my mind off life long enough for me to cope with some rather heavy shit.
Final Judgment: The sampler platter at your favorite bar.