Gwendy’s Final Task (The Button Box #3) – Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Final Task by Stephen King, Richard Chizmar
Also by this author: Carrie, Finn
Series: The Button Box #3
Published by Cemetery Dance Publications on February 15, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Speculative, Thriller
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When Gwendy Peterson was twelve, a stranger named Richard Farris gave her a mysterious box for safekeeping. It offered treats and vintage coins, but it was dangerous. Pushing any of its seven coloured buttons promised death and destruction.
Years later, the button box re-entered Gwendy's life. A successful novelist and a rising political star, she was once more forced to deal with the temptations that the box represented—an amazing sense of wellbeing, balanced by a terrifyingly dark urge towards disaster.
With the passing of time, the box has grown ever stronger and evil forces are striving to possess it. Once again, it is up to Gwendy Peterson, now a United States Senator battling the early symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease, to keep it from them. At all costs. But where can you hide something from such powerful entities?
Gwendy's Final Task is a wildly suspenseful and at the same time deeply moving novel in which 'horror giants' (Publishers Weekly) Stephen King and Richard Chizmar take us on a journey from Castle Rock to another famous cursed Maine city to the MF-1 space station, where Gwendy must execute a secret mission to save the world. And, maybe, all worlds.

Gwendy’s Button Box was a bit of an outlier for Stephen King in that he co-wrote it—not something he typically does—but it was otherwise vintage King. Young child? Check. Mysterious stranger? Check. A parable about the consequences of power? Check. The Button Box was Chizmar’s idea and King pretty much let Chizmar run with it. So much so, that when Chizmar had the idea of a full-length novel follow-up, King declined to be a part of it but gave Chizmar his blessing to continue the story. Gwendy’s Magic Feather returned to Gwendy and Castle Rock, and the Button Box, to ask questions about fate vs free will and the consequences of obtaining the things we most desire. It didn’t quite have the same punch as the King/Chizmar team-up, with a tepid ending and an overly long story. Nonetheless, when Chizmar had the idea for a story to wrap up Gwendy’s tale, King went all in with Gwendy’s Final Task.

Like the previous book, it is a full-length novel. Or rather, the book feels like a novella bloated into a full-length novel. The setup and pacing is slow, and it builds to a frenetic and chaotic ending that tries to tie in virtually every element of the Stephen King multiverse. Gwendy’s Final Task finds the titular Gwendy now an aging Senator with Alzheimer’s (a fact that is continually harped on without much explanation and to little narrative effect). It’s the midst of the COVID pandemic and she’s part of a spaceflight to a space station where she has secreted away the button box, hoping to destroy it once and for all.

Movie franchises—unless they started out space-themed—have long jumped the shark when they end up in space. Amityville in Space, Leprechaun 4: In Space, Hellraiser: Bloodline, Jason X…and Fast 9 movie if you want something not horror. Space is seen as a way of spicing up the backdrop of a tried-and-true plot, a way of doing the same thing but making it look different. Gwendy’s Final Task would have done well if that’s what it did. Instead, the space elements are just boring. The message is overbearing. The pacing is slow. The plotting chaotic. The novel never coheres into an interesting or engaging story.

One line I did like, and something that encapsules what is good about the Gwendy trilogy is that: “People don’t need a button box to do horrible things. There is plenty of evil f*ckery in the human spirit.” Unfortunately, King and Chizmar never work out that thesis in any engaging fashion.