Monday, December 06, 2010

Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King is at the point in his career where he writes what he feels like writing, and publishes when he feels like publishing. In the Afterword to this collection, King states:

I have tried my best... to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances.

"1922" - 132 pages. This tale was the last one I read and required the most commitment to finish on my part. His inspiration was the photograph collection from the nonfiction book Wisconsin Death Trip. He hoped to capture some of the bleakness and isolation of the pictures in this story.

I believe he succeeded in doing this. Wilfred James certainly has a difficult life, made more so by a wife who wants to sell her land to a hog farmer, no matter the consequences to her husband's farm. Murder is the unsurprising result, with the somewhat reluctant assistance of James' son. This kicks off a series of events that culminate in an ending reminiscent of Poe, Lovecraft, or... er, Stephen King.

This story required the most commitment from me because I found it difficult to like any of the characters. King's portrayal of them isn't unrealistic or inaccurate; they are entirely believable. I just didn't like them, with the possible exception of the son's girlfriend. She was more sympathetic, but her existence and plight weren't really necessary to the core of the story. The interlude of her doomed romance with the son is more of a detour on the way to ruin.

"Big Driver" - 112 pages. This tale should prove very popular with female mystery readers and their fans. Tess, a cozy writer, is called to speak to a group after Janet Evanovich cancels. On a shortcut home through no-man's land, she is seized, raped, and left for dead. She finds her way back to safety, but she will never be the same. She cannot report what happened to her because of the damage it would do to her image as a cozy writer. The other option? Revenge, served Stephen King style.

I greatly enjoyed this story, especially with its salute to the writers' life and its nod to women mystery writers. Janet Evanovich is one of the most-read (and well-paid) living mystery writers, although the true mystery tends to center around whether she will hook up with Morelli or Ranger in the latest book. Tess outlines the presentation 'routine' of an author as she performs it. Later, she will talk to her cat... and the cat will talk back (an unfortunate occurrence in super-cozies). As she becomes increasingly not-cozy in outlook, she also talks to her GPS and the corpses of her victims. A fun read.

"Fair Extension" - 33 pages. This was the shortest, so I read this first. Yes, I am lazy.

Man dying of cancer makes a deal with Mr. "Elvid" to continue living. My comment: in Danse Macabre, King states that the horror reader has the moral sense of the average Puritan when it comes to who can (and should) have horrible things done to them. He did not invoke this rule when I thought he should. Not satisfied with the ending, but make your own judgment.

"A Good Marriage" - 103 pages. What do you do when you discover your husband is a serial killer? In the afterword, King cites the example of the BTK Killer: many people believed that his wife had to know what her husband was doing. King disagrees, and asks, "What if..."

I'm trying to think what to say about this story of Darcellen and her non-fun version of Dexter. I know it was a decent story, but I'd have to flip through it to come up with good or bad stuff. When I was trying to describe the stories in this collection to a friend, I had a mental block with this one: "And the other one, it was a good story, but... let me get the book. Oh, yeah... this is what it's about..." I think that tells me what I thought of it.

Time to assign some stars to this collection of novellas and one short story.

Overall? Four stars. I enjoyed the book overall and it gave me real pleasure to read it. Rating the individual stories...? Three stars for "1922", despite my complaints. If he meant to convey despair, he got what he wanted. Four stars for "Big Driver". Two stars for "Fair Extension". I would make it one for my dislike of the ending, but I save that for really crappy writing. Three stars for "A Good Marriage". It was a good story and it kept me turning pages. It just didn't stick with me.

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