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Review: In the final volume of the Gwendy trilogy, Stephen King’s likeable heroine faces “apocalyptic evil”

A stalled Stephen King story got enough inspiration from another writer to fuel an unexpected trilogy.

What began as an attempt to revive a fragment of a Stephen King short story has morphed, thanks to Maryland publisher Richard Chizmar, into a three-volume collaboration of growing complexity.

Released Feb. 15 by Chizmar’s Cemetery Dance Publications, “Gwendy’s Final Task” completes the fantasy trilogy begun in “Gwendy’s Button Box” and continued in “Gwendy’s Magic Feather.” It’s another unexpected treat for King fans in the span of a year, represented by some of his best recent work, including “Billy Summers,” his hard-hitting assassin thriller from last August.

The “Gwendy” saga begins with 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson of Castle Rock, Maine, who meets a mysterious stranger wearing a black bowler hat. He says his name is Richard Farris and he has a favor to ask him.

Farris gives her a wooden box with seven buttons on it for safekeeping. The color of the buttons, Farris tells Wendy, determines who they affect when pushed: light green and dark green for Asia and Africa; blue and purple for North and South America; orange for Europe and yellow for Australia; plus a red for a personal wish and a big black associated with CANCER. There are additional levers that give out exquisite chocolate animals or extremely rare silver dollars.

Gwendy grows into a successful, athletic, popular, attractive, and intelligent young woman. Eating the chocolates and spending the coins elicits feelings of euphoria and seems to bring good luck. Like Gollum’s ring, however, the box has an addictive quality. Gwendy is ultimately forced to choose a button to press. She thinks South America might have the fewest casualties, but she’s horrified to learn that the box might have triggered the murder/suicide in Jonestown. Despite experiencing tragedy, it seems Gwendy is finally finding a way out of the box’s sphere of influence.

“Gwendy’s Magic Feather” chronicles her rise to success in Washington, DC, and as a bestselling novelist. She also finds herself brought back to Castle Rock, to help in the search for two missing girls. The box reenters her life, for reasons she doesn’t understand.

“Gwendy’s Final Task” jumps forward a few decades, to when Gwendy is a 64-year-old United States Senator from Maine, on a mission to a space station. She carries with her a sturdy steel crate marked CLASSIFIED, and she and only one other shipmate know it contains possibly the most dangerous object in the universe.

King will likely never stop returning to his gargantuan “Dark Tower” mythos, and there are strong connections in the Gwendy Trilogy to “The Gunslinger” and other books. Mr. Farris is undoubtedly an incarnation of Randall Flagg from “The Stand”. Pennywise the clown from “IT” makes an appearance in the dark little town of Derry. The clairvoyant handshakes of “The Dead Zone” play a role in the plot.

After a life full of luck and good health, Gwendy developed early and accelerating Alzheimer’s disease. She abuses words she knows well, forgets familiar tasks. Even if she hatches a foolproof plan to protect the box, there’s no guarantee she’ll remember it. As bad as it is to not be able to trust her own brain, it’s worse for Gwendy to have to protect her teammates from a devious billionaire who blasted his way to the rocket with the intention of stealing. the box and kick the black button. good, hard blow.

King has worked with other writers before, but these are usually family members (Joe Hill and Owen King) or very close friends (Peter Straub). The author of “Chasing the Boogeyman,” Chizmar is well known in the horror publishing industry, but not a household name. He was, however, uniquely positioned to see the opening pages of “Gwendy’s Button Box” and be able to offer King his help in finishing the short story and continuing the trilogy.

“Gwendy’s Final Task” provides a fitting ending to this offbeat offering. Over the course of three books, Gwendy emerges as one of King’s most likeable heroines – soft-spoken but not easy-going, strong enough to face extraordinary circumstances with grace and strength. Although some observers may view her life as cursed, she never loses her belief that she has also been blessed. His essential kindness in the face of apocalyptic evil is what gives the series its power.

The “Gwendy” series feels a little baggy at times, repetitive in its reminders that the box is dangerous and that Gwendy is losing her mind. But it wins points for the way it generates suspense in a claustrophobic setting.

King is a more adventurous writer than many critics give him credit for. It’s good to see him experimenting with subject matter, style and structure as he does with the “Gwendy” books. Working with Chizmar seems to suit him, and readers can be thankful — in this particular case, at least — for King’s willingness to collaborate.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mlberry

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