Imagine getting to creatively work in the playground of one of your heroes? For New York Times bestselling author Richard Chizmar, that’s what happened in 2017 when he and Stephen King co-wrote the novella Gwendy’s Button Box. Not only was Chizmar collaborating with a legend, but their story was set in King’s infamous literary locale, Castle Rock, Maine, where books including The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Dark Half, and Needful Things take place. The duo created a fun and thoughtful story about a young girl, Gwendy Peterson, who comes into the possession of a mysterious button box that winds up changing her life.
Gwendy’s Button Box worked well, with both writer’s styles melding seamlessly together. Now, with the blessing of King, Chizmar has written a sequel, Gwendy’s Magic Feather.
Before I continue, it’s worth noting that Richard Chizmar is a friend and as the owner of Cemetery Dance Press, the publisher of my book This Dark Chest of Wonders: 40 Years of Stephen King’s The Stand. He also happens to be one of my favourite writers, with his first collection of short stories, A Long December my favourite book of 2016. So, there’s some history and a predisposition to enjoying his work. When it comes to Gwendy’s Magic Feather, it’s nice to be able to say the author’s talents are once again successfully on display, though this time they can be seen in a different light.
The story is set in 1999, the world on the cusp of Y2K. Gwendy is a 37-year-old first-year congresswoman who has led a fairly charmed life since the button box left her decades earlier. A bestselling author, an Academy Award winner, happily married. However, when the button box suddenly reappears, and Gwendy returns home to Castle Rock for the holidays, she’s left wondering just how natural the progression of her life has been.
Like Gwendy Peterson running up Castle Rock’s Suicide Stairs, Gwendy’s Magic Feather moves quickly. Chapters are short and concise; Chizmar doesn’t waste a word of his prose. However, unlike his short fiction, and even his previous collaboration with King, the story here is light; certainly lighter than anything I’ve read by Chizmar before. Even with the threat of evil throughout the book (two girls have gone missing in Castle Rock), the darkness rests more in the background for the majority of the novel. Instead, Gwendy’s Magic Feather is about love and family and determination. The book spends more time depicting the strong bond between Gwendy and her parents than its serial-killer subplot, and I’m not complaining.
Though the fictional president in Gwendy’s Magic Feather is pretty much a place holder for 2019’s real-world Commander In Chief, and the threat of war seeps into the story as Gwendy navigates Washington, there’s a real and refreshing sense of optimism that runs throughout the entire narrative, one that I wasn’t entirely prepared for. It comes from Gwendy Peterson, who doesn’t have all the answers to her life and purpose, but who constantly demonstrates a determination to move forward regardless. She’s an appealing character, and Chizmar knows her inside and out.
When I put Gwendy’s Magic Feather down, I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King’s Eyes of the Dragon. A strange thought, that, since King’s novel is very much in the realm of fantasy, with no connection to the real world. But for me, Gwendy felt like someone fantastical out of a fairy tale, and her life, something magical.
Much like the book itself.
You can order Gwendy’s Magic Feather from Cemetery Dance now. It will be published this November.