Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Full Dark, No Stars: Stephen King

The title says it all. Dark. Stephen King's newest effort is a group of four stories each set in different locations and in different times. The first of the four: 1922 is certainly the darkest. 1922 is the story of a man who fights his wife at all costs to keep her from selling an inheritance of neighboring land to a major slaughterhouse and moving the family to the "big city" of Omaha, Nebraska. In the end the wife is unfaltering in her beliefs and the husband must convince his son that the only option is to do the unthinkable. If I wanted to compare it to someone else's writing the only person who comes to mind is Edgar Allan Poe. Seriously. The kind of slow destruction and following mental breakdown into madness that only a certain few writers have ever attempted or wanted to attempt, and even fewer have succeeded in articulating so masterfully. I was admittedly slightly alarmed to continue at this point. The second novella Big Driver was a completely different tale, but at least had more of the Hollywood bright spots you might hope for when pure blackness is the overall theme and title of your literary quest. King tells of an author suddenly marooned on the trip home from a reading and signing event in a nearby town. A theme not to far  removed from King's Misery (1987), but here we have a female protagonist who falls victim to a red-neck tow truck driver's plot to capture unsuspecting woman taking the short cut through the back roads. Fair Extensions was the least impressive and shortest of the four, which was set in a town the author admits is quite similar to where he lives. Dave Streeter is dying of cancer and makes a shady deal with a roadside vender at twilight to have his life extended in exchange for a percentage of his salary during these gifted remaining years. Dave must also search his soul for one person whom he hates so that our vendor might even the scales of the world so to speak. The story is sad and twisted and even funny at times, but begins to read like a grocery list and leaves the reader with a knot in the gut that is not justified by any type of brilliant prose or masterful turn of plot. Finally, the last story, A Good Marriage, is the best and is based on a true event in the news that King felt he must write about. In this last novella, Darcy, a loving and devoted wife stumbles across a mysterious box in her husband's immaculate garage while looking for batteries for the television remote when her husband is out of town on business. Let's just say she takes a trip down the rabbit hole, but luckily this one also has some light at the end of the tunnel so that the reader is left perhaps a little screwed up, but still rewarded for their efforts. All in all, the novel is extremely well crafted and the positives in the three brilliant stories far outweigh the negatives of Fair Extensions. The worst of the four is not a total loss, either. There are some great turns of phrase and the character of the devil in the form of a strange roadside vendor is fantastic. I just felt that the ending left more to be desired. I would recommend this book to any fan of King's past work the genre of horror/psychological thrillers and mystery/crime novels. 

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