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2011 Book Review: Full Dark, No Stars

June 10, 2011

Stephen King’s latest collection of short stories is rather brutal. Not that Stephen King has ever pulled any punches when it comes to his stories, but there is something about this collection that is somehow more raw, more bare bones gut wrenching than his usual style. Only the one story contains anything directly supernatural, though the first has a delirium scene which might or might not actually be supernatural in nature.

1922

There are hints which imply that the main character in this story may simply be completely mad, though King plays the Lovecraftian game of dancing that edge between “the supernatural is actually just madness” and “the supernatural has caused the madness. The voice for this character is authentically colloquial, peppered with the occasional modern term where an older term would probably be confusing to the reader. The story itself explores everything from the emerging rights of women to the complicated relationships of small town men being pushed into an industrial world. And naturally, murder.

Big Driver

This story is probably half of why I feel Full Dark, No Stars is more brutal than King’s usual style. He tells the reader right up front that this is a story about a woman’s rape. Much to my relief, King does not linger on the act itself. I’ve read one too many stories where the author feels the need to lovingly describe every thrust, and am grateful that King once again proves himself a better class of author. With the act itself out of the way quickly, King takes the rest of the story to do what he does best. He sends his character forth into the world, and lets the reader watch them cope with the horrible thing that has happened to them. Many a rape victim may hear their own voice in this story, and find a sort of catharsis in its resolution.

Fair Extension

Fair Extension was the only story in this collection that didn’t sit well with me. It feels… I don’t know. Incomplete. Like there’s a second half rolling around in King’s head somewhere that we’ll only get to read if he lives another 10 years and feels like revisiting that bare stretch of highway outside of the airport where a little man with an umbrella waits for someone looking for an extension.

A Good Marriage

Probably the most intense of this collection, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about Good Marriage. I’m the sort of King fan who appreciates his explorations of interpersonal relationships just as much as his way with the horrible and terrible in this world and others. Hell, I read Rose Madder for the strength of its story about survivors of domestic violence. All the other bullshit (pun intended) is just extraneous. So this one was right up my alley.

Good Marriage is about a woman who discovers that her husband of 27 years has a murderous secret. It’s really the details that make this story so powerful. The wife’s little habits which lead naturally to the larger habit which helps her verify her suspicions. The husband’s meticulous nature, which makes the reader truly believe that this is someone who could have hidden a secret this large for this long. The tiny tickings of a mind which has been plunged into someplace dark and cold that must now swim back up to a surface that may or may not have an island of sanity somewhere in sight. It is dark, it is powerful, and it is completely believable. Which is probably the most scary thing of all.

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