King is still roused by battles between good and evil, and we often sense a great writer duking it out with a corny hack within the same book. On this occasion, the hack wins on points...[but] when he clambers out of his rut of undemanding retreads, King shows he is still capable of keeping it fresh.
The more realistic stories here don’t carry much conviction, and all but a handful of the fantastic ones feel a bit desperate, as if he were trying too hard to 'entertain.' The better stories seem like oddities, one-offs...Stephen King, still learning, seems ambivalent about his own creative powers...
When King dials back the horror shtick in the more harrowing tales of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, it’s the quotidian particulars of 21st century life — Walmart, DUI convictions, road rage, the stony realism of Maine’s rural poor — that haunt us more effectively than any undead vehicle.
King's constant authorial presence can't help but pull us out, disrupting the pattern of the dream. Each time he inserts himself, we are reminded of the construction of the fiction, with the author front and center when it ought to be the other way around...It's unfortunate, for there are a lot of good stories in this collection: moving, disturbing and in between.
[King's] fans not only tolerate his forays into other modalities, but have come to savor them. And there is much to savor in this collection of short stories that, despite its horror-centric title — the marketing gods must be served, after all — also touches on a wide range of other genres, from drama to humor and even poetry.
Although a few boogeymen may be found, the stories tend to focus on protagonists coping with trauma. This thematic focus gives the book a sense of purpose that many short story collections lack, and as a result, the stories enhance each other and elevate The Bazaar of Bad Dreams from merely good to remarkably resonant.