Full Dark, No Stars
Author: Stephen King
Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Full-Dark-Stars-Stephen-King/dp/1439192561/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300819287&sr=8-1
I’ve been hesitant to review books by Mr. King. This will be my first, and if I happen to review another of his works later, then I might begin with a similar introduction. Stephen King is one of two authors who I can honestly say most inspired me to write, the other being H.P. Lovecraft. And if I am honest about things, Mr. King was the primary inspiration and always has been. His devotion to crafting horror tales is something I aspire to myself, and it becomes difficult for me to critique the work of my figurative teacher and master. Still, one must try, and try to maintain objectivity in the process, if for no other reason than as practice to maintain the balance between truth and adoration.
Full Dark, No Stars is Stephen King’s newest novel, a collection of four novellas similar to Four Past Midnight. While the general public might think of Stephen King as the novelist who pumps out thousand page books every few months, his true talent shines in the shorter fictions he has written over the years. Full Dark, No Stars (which I’ll abbreviate FDNS from now on) does not disappoint.
There are, as I mentioned, four stories of various lengths. These stories tend to be darker than King’s usual fare, which is saying a lot. Generally, though, Mr. King aims to scare you first, but these stories are meant to disturb you, and they do the job admirably. At the end of the book, Stephen King gives an explanation for why he wrote these stories, and why they are more visceral than most of his other tales. What it comes down to is that the world is a bit darker, and sometimes the horror writer needs to change the paradigm a little. When the idea becomes and institution, it’s time to change how you think about the idea. It’s not simply the desensitization we all experience in this modern life, it’s that reality sometimes needs to be crafted into a tale in a way that is disturbing to read, and yet shows that life goes on, despite horrible things going on.
Of the four stories in the book, only two incorporate supernatural elements. I’m much more a fan of the supernatural than the thriller, but there’s subtle bits in the non-ghostly stories to fill my quota for the mysterious. Two of the stories have a predominant male lead while the other two have a female lead, and only one, the first, 1922, is written in first person. The second and fourth stories, Big Driver and A Good Marriage, both read more like mystery novels, while the third tale, Fair Extension, returns us to the comfortable confines of Derry, Maine.
The first tale, 1922, is the confession of a Depression era farmer who, with the help of his teenage son, killed his wife and dropped her down the well. Equal parts The Grapes of Wrath, The Tell Tale Heart and The Rats in the Walls, the story is very down to earth, as you’d expect the last confession of a farmer to be. The story feels like a glimpse back in time, but through a terribly grimy window that might just be caked with blood.
The second story is Big Driver, which could best be described as a rape revenge tale. That’s what it is in a nutshell, and there’s really no apology for it, nor should there be. It’s a story that puts an ordinary woman into an awful situation, and she does not come out of it stronger or more confident, but rather damaged and alone, but with faith in humanity restored. It’s probably the most visceral of the stories in this book, and it pulls no punches, but that makes it one of the most honest tales.
Next is Fair Extension, which I admit to liking far too much because it’s set in Derry, Maine, home to my favorite King novel, IT. However, the meat of this story has very little to do with the darkness that surrounds Derry (though there’s a few hints for the sharp-eyed fans to catch). Rather it speaks to what I like to call the Law of Exchange – to get something, something else must first be given. In this case, one man’s woes are transfered to those of his best friend in exchange for an extension of the man’s life. In the end, he is not a hero, not noble in any way, but instead a petty, selfish man who is happy for the misfortune his friend endures.
The final story, A Good Marriage, posits a simple question: what would you do if you discovered your spouse of almost thirty years was actually leading a double life…and not a sexy one as a spy (ala True Lies), but rather a serial killer? The mental torture this places upon the woman in the story is palpable, and her final solution to the situation leaves it to the reader to decide if she did the right thing or not. Certainly she feels better, but was it the right thing? Is there a right thing to do in that situation?
Finally, there is the afterword, a bit of philosophizing with Mr. King. It’s a good read, worth sitting through after all that darkness. Not only does Mr. King explain his reasons for the book, but also why such writing is necessary, with a hint or two for the fiction writer as well. As he says, tell the truth and the story follows.
In all, this is a very good book. There are a few rough spots, owing mostly to some of the stories feeling like they need a bit more meat to them (Fair Extension) or that they perhaps go on too long (A Good Marriage). In the end, however, this set of stories is quite worth the read, and should satisfy King fans and thriller fans alike.