Gwendy’s Button Box feels like an homage to Richard Matheson’s superlative short-story “The Box” (which if you haven’t read yet, please add it to your summer reading list!).
Young Gwendy Patterson is running the town’s Suicide Stairs in the summer of 1974 in an attempt to leave her derogatory nickname behind when she enters middle school that fall. She meets a mysterious man in black who offers her a box with buttons. One button will give her a chocolate treat that will help curb her appetite. Another dispenses silver dollars and the others come with warnings that they shouldn’t be pushed except under extreme circumstances.
Gwendy accepts the box and the responsibility that comes with it. Within a few months she’s dropped some weight and her life seems to be trending more positively than before. But in the back of her mind, she can’t help but feel the responsibility of being the guardian of the box and the what pressing one of the other buttons might means.
According to reports, Stephen King began the story but couldn’t find a satisfying way to end it. He asked author Richard Chizmar for help and the two collaborated on the final product. Reading the story, this feels like an early King story with ordinary characters thrust into extraordinary circumstances and seeing how they react. The story is really more of a novella than a standard King novel and I’m hard pressed to find examples that are clearly King writing and examples that are clearly Chizmar writing. (Having not read much, if anything that Chizmar has written might be part of it, though I’m certainly curious to pick up more of his work now.) If you’re looking for your standard King horror, it’s not necessarily here. But if you’re looking for a story that feels a lot like vintage Richard Matheson, this one is for you.
The story is doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and while you won’t get a lot in the way of answers surrounding the button box, I couldn’t help but come away feeling completely satisfied by this collaboration.