Ah, Stephen King. How I loved him. Do I still? I am not sure. I’ve just finished Sleeping Beauties, an interesting tale about male violence and female separatism: simply put, a compelling cast of female characters get sent to a parallel world without men to re-start humanity. It’s okay, mostly. There’s some brilliant ladies, including a crazy smart-ass witch, and I do tend to have a weakness for those.
But I‘ve also finished Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories. Some of them are great, some merely good, and others are just… um? (Premium Harmony, for instance, features a dude fantasizing about getting pity sex from strange women after his wife dies of a heart attack at the supermarket. While he fantasizes away, he forgets about his dog, who tragically dies in the car because it’s too hot. That’s… okay?)
Oh well, no one’s perfect, not even King, and dead dogs aren’t the issue anyway. The thing is, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is frustrating because of all the boobs breasting boobily to the stairs while the male gaze stares and hungers on.
You’ve probably heard of that Twitter challenge. You know, the one where female writers describe themselves as a male author would? (If you haven’t, look it up, it’s awesome.) It has produced its fair share of gems, all highlighting the unfortunate tendency many male writers have to go BOOBS! whenever a woman appears. Or LACK OF BOOBS!, alternatively. Of course, sometimes it’s not about BOOBS! at all, but rather CURVES! (or LACK OF), ASS! (or LACK OF), in short, FUCKABILITY! (or LACK OF). SAD!
Now, Bazaar of Bad Dreams isn’t all BOOBS!, far from it, but the book still provides enough examples of this literary phenomenon to make for a fine case study. So let’s delve deep inside the belly of the beast, and no, I will not say boobies of the beast. I could have, but I won’t, because it’s far too crass and silly and I’m not that kind of lady.
#1 Premium Harmony
He sees a young woman in the rearview mirror. She’s jogging towards the car. She’s even heavier than Mary; great big tits shuffle back and forth under her blue smock.
I suppose she also has eyes or hair and probably a body around those tits but who knows for sure?
Three people are standing over [Mary]. One is a dark-skinned man in khaki pants and a white shirt. A nametag on the pocket of his shirt says MR. GHOSH MANAGER. The other two are costumers. One is a thin old man without much hair. He’s in his seventies at least. The other is a fat woman. She’s fatter than Mary. Fatter than the girl in the blue smock, too.
Manager wearing clothes, thin bold old man in his seventies, woman FAT!
(That’s the story with the dead dog.)
#2 Under the Weather
“Petrov Excellent Vodka,” Aura McLean says. Her wonderful breasts rise and fall in a theatrical sigh. “If that name’s an example of the new Russian capitalism, it’s dead on arrival.” The heartiest laugh comes from the younger men, who’d like to see Aura’s long blond hair spread on a pillow next to them.
This takes place during a brainstorming meeting at an advertising firm. I’m guessing the woman in question… works there or something?
#3 The Little Green God of Agony
Melissa gave her little Mona Lisa smile, then turned (almost pirouetted) and left the room. Glided from the room. She had to be at least forty-five, but looked younger. She wasn’t sexy; nothing so vulgar. Rather there was an ice queen glamour about her that made Kat think of Ingrid Bergman. Icy or not, Kat supposed men would wonder how that chestnut hair would look freed from its clips and all mussed up. How her coral lipstick would look smeared on her teeth and up one cheek. Kat, who considered herself dumpy, told herself at least once a day that she wasn’t jealous of that smooth, cold face. Or that tight, heart-shaped bottom.
This is a story about a quasi-paralytic multi-billionaire hiring a creepy reverend to exorcize the pain demon currently gnawing on his insides. An aside on the housekeeper’s hotness naturally couldn’t be avoided.
I also think it’s great that our female protagonist would take the time to explain what men think of the housekeeper’s hotness. Men’s opinions of female bodies have been dismissed and ignored for too long!
#4 The Bone Church
It’s time for some poetry!
Twenty-nine dead on the march, and one a woman.
Fine tits she had, and an ass like an English saddle!
We found her facedown one morning,
As dead as the fire she lay in,
An ash-baby smoked at the cheeks and throat.
*singing* Twenty-nine dead on the march, and one a pair of tits!
Seriously now? King, are you doing that on purpose? It looks like you’re doing that on purpose.
In Obits, a columnist who has the power to kill people by writing nasty obituaries is in lust with his colleague Katie, who is insanely hot. Of course, that means we, the privileged audience, get reminded of her insane hotness every time she appears or breathes!
[Katie] sat down at the next desk, a long-legged vision in faded jeans. (…) She spread her arms, showing me how floodgates open, and incidentally giving me a breathtaking view of breasts snugly encased in a black tank top.
Of course she would.
‘You can’t tell anybody about this.’
‘Of course not. What kind of person do you think I am?’
One with beautiful eyes, long legs, and perfect breasts, I thought as I hung up. I should have known I was in for trouble, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
I’m not sure people asking “what kind of person do you think I am” are thinking about their boobs, but what the hell do I know.
Now, I could work in more quotes to illustrate my point, but that would double the size of the article. All you need to know is that Katie’s insanely hot and that her breasts are…
… every bit as firm and perfect as I’d expected they would be.
#6 Herman Wouk is still alive
This story’s tragic, terrible, the kind that gives you goosebumps and a gut-wrenching feeling. Jasmine and Brenda have far too many kids, no husbands, no money, and no hope. They’re driving in a rented pick-up truck with all their kids, and as they reflect on their broken lives, Brenda starts to drive faster. And faster. Jasmine doesn’t mind at all.
Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.
It’s genuinely good, a painfully realistic depiction of single moms living in poverty. But there’s this moment.
‘Jack finally went broke. The writing’s been on the wall since last year. So there goes that ninety a week.’ [Jasmine] drinks. In her lap, Delight stirs, then goes back to sleep with her comfort finger plugged in her gob. Where, Brenda thinks, some boy like Mike Higgins will want to put his dick not all that many years from now. And she’ll probably let him. I did. Jaz did too. That’s just how things go.
Delight, you see, is a six-month-old baby. She’s a six-month-old baby.
What the hell, King? You think it’s normal to visualize oral sex while speaking of a six-month-old baby? This is sick.
#7 Mile 81
Mile 81 is about a car that eats people. One of the victims is Julianne Vernon, who’s very nice, strong-willed, cheerful, gay, and fat. And since she’s fat…
… she [never] worried much about being robbed, raped, or murdered.
Because it’s a well-known fact that those things don’t happen to fat women.
Anywho, Julie was also a member of a female mud-wrestling team – the kind of entertainment typically designed for the male gaze. And one night, a spectator can’t help but share his enthusiasm a bit too vocally:
‘Grab her by the cunt, she’s a dyke, she likes that!’ some shitbrained yokel had yelled one night. (…)
She and Melissa, the girl she’d been grappling with in the Mudbowl (…) stood there wearing nothing but their sopping bikini briefs, mud dripping from their hair and breasts, and had flipped the bird at the heckler in unison. The audience had broken into spontaneous applause… which became a standing O when first Julianne, then Melissa, turned, bent, dropped throu, and shot the asshole a double moon.
Yes! Let the fucker and his friends ogle your ass! That’ll… show them?
In all seriousness, I can’t help but wonder why the author chose to have his openly lesbian character pleasing heterosexual men by participating in such an objectifying sport, “wearing nothing but sopping bikini briefs.” Was that necessary? I don’t think so.
#8 Drunken Fireworks
‘Where was Mrs McCausland when the fire broke out?’
‘Until Massimo came to treat her to lobster Benedict and homefries at Lucky’s, right here at the station,’ Andy said. (…) Ellie said that when she and Massimo left, he had his arm around her waist. Which must have been quite a feat, considering her current girth.’
You know, I can’t help but feel like the King really, really wants us to know when his (female) characters are fat. That’s not just Bazaar of Bad Dreams, that’s a general pattern in his work. If they’re fat, prepare to get reminded of it. A lot.
So there you have it. The ‘Breasting Boobily’ Syndrome ain’t going away any time soon – which is why I consider it necessary to denounce it, criticize it, and write silly blog posts about it. Writers, hear me out: women are more than boobs or ass or long hair sprayed on the pillow. And please refrain from using the “But I’m just trying to be realistic, it’s a male point of view” defense. It’s your point of view, for starters, and you choose what your characters think about; moreover, that line doesn’t fly when female characters get objectified even when seen from a female point of view.
Look, we get it. Boobs. Can we please talk about the other stuff next time? A little more body neutrality in fiction could work wonders with making our culture a little less sexist.
On a final note: if you’re in the short story mood, check out The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I may have spent an article bitching about it, but it’s got some really, really good stories. In the meantime, see you in 2019. XOXO Papyrus