Friday, January 14, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I know what you're thinking.

"Oh yay, another review of
Full Dark, No Stars."


As if everybody and their mother hasn't reviewed this book already, right?

Well, I haven't reviewed this book, and being that I just finished the darkest, meanest, and most violent of all of Stephen King's books that I've read, I'm going to damn well review it.


Starred Review. Eerie twists of fate drive the four longish stories in King's first collection since Just After Sunset (2008). In "1922," a farmer murders his wife to retain the family land she hopes to sell, then watches his life unravel hideously as the consequences of the killing suggest a near-supernatural revenge. "Big Driver" tells of an otherwise ordinary woman who discovers her extraordinary capacity for retribution after she is raped and left for dead. "A Good Marriage" explores the aftermath of a wife's discovery of her milquetoast husband's sinister secret life, while "Fair Extension," the book's most disturbing story, follows the relationship between a man and the best friend on whom he preternaturally shifts all his bad luck and misfortune. As in Different Seasons (1982), King takes a mostly nonfantastic approach to grim themes. Now, as then, these tales show how a skilled storyteller with a good tale to tell can make unsettling fiction compulsively readable.


*If you haven't read this book, be warned - there are many spoilers ahead.*

Now, most people's comments surrounding this book detail the fact that this is one of King's hardest, nastiest, and darkest reads to date; bringing back the feel of the 'Old King' they read when they were younger. I hadn't read any King, save for Cycle of the Werewolf when I was a kid, and haven't really ventured past some of the Bachman books (and a very failed attempt at reading IT) in my adulthood, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Here's what happened.

The first story in the collection is 1922, detailing (in first person) the account of Wilfred James and the space in time between 1922 and 1923, in which he confesses to the murder of his wife and describes the aftermath of said action.

King's descriptive brilliance is incredibly apparent in this story, giving so much weight to his words, and immersing the reader in Wilfred's life during the year his family (and others) suffered by his hands. The emotional pressure is intense, as is the lyrical style that King uses to give voice to his main character. Though remorse and terror are portrayed incredibly well, the story did drag on a bit, creating a need to burn through the pages in order to get to some of the better parts. There are one or two instances in the story that are brilliantly disgusting, though, and I even found myself wincing in sympathetic pain and horror.


The next story up is Big Driver. Set the town of Chicopee, Massachusetts; the story focuses on Tess - a successful mystery writer who speaks at an engagement at a local library, is given some very bad directions home, and eventually runs afoul of a man who rapes, beats, and leaves her for dead.

To me, this story is very reminiscent of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, but only in the sense that, at it's core, this is a rape/revenge story. King's version of this exploitation staple is very well written, imagined, and unfortunately, described. Now, I say unfortunately because I'm not a fan of the rape/revenge motif, nor have I ever been. There are moments when I can see the idea working for someone, but without the skill of a master auteur or author, I can't believe that something like this this would ever come to the public's viewing.

That said, Big Driver was an intense foray into the subject matter. Written from the perspective of a female, which King does surprisingly well, we're introduced to the idea that things aren't always what they seem to be, and that humanity is capable of some seriously fucked up shit. The whole story is about as intense as a pot of water about to boil over, bringing the reader as close to the boiling point with it. Every step within the story is well timed and beautifully exectuted. Based on King's visceral approach to the descriptions in this one, I could see this one becoming a film more than any of the others. There's so much raw emotion and inner turmoil in the main character, it almost begs for a big screen adaptation.


Fair Extension is the 3rd story in this collection and is based around the idea of childhood friends and the hatred that is harboured in the heart of one, for another. The whole premise struck me as incredible when I started reading it. The idea that someone would have to choose between their own health, and the health and lives of others - for decidedly greedy and overtly sinister purposes - and then show little or no remorse in the end is, to me, one of the most incredibly mean things that I've come across in a while.

I applaud Mr. King for taking this road, as it is really the road less traveled.

When I spoke of emotion in terms of Big Driver, I was relating it to visceral and descriptive emotion. Fair Extension hits you somewhere else. It grabs you by the collar and gets in your face, demanding to know if you'd sacrifice someone else for your own purposes. Granted, none of us will probably ever see the day when we'll have to make a decision like that, but Dave Streeter, the main character in the story, is faced with that dilemma, and deals with it the way he sees fit.

I appreciate the fact that King made this such a bleak and uncompromising story. It was a very welcome breath of fresh (albeit claustrophobic) air, and really grabbed the title and made perfect use of it.

The last story in the collection is A Good Marriage, which centers around the premise that you really can't tell who someone is until their secrets are revealed.

This story is so powerful, and so well written, that it's hard to even compare it to the rest. It was by far my favorite of the four. King was right to end off with this one, as it has all the hallmarks of a brilliantly written horror story.

The characters are absolutely easy to sympathise with, the set up is one that you really wouldn't know what was coming (if you hadn't read the cover sleeve), the vast and indescribably painful transformation that the wife in the story goes through is just heartbreaking, and the whole vibe is about as dark as complete and utter nothingness. King really let fly by putting Darcy in a heartwrenching predicament, and eventually put her through her paces. It's amazing that King himself was able to walk away from this one, as it really made me look at everything in a different light when I was done.

Overall, while I did enjoy Full Dark, No Stars, I did have the feeling taht King was 'holding back' with where he could have taken the stories. There's no doubt that this is some of the most extreme work of his that I've read (outside of his entry in Skipp's Book Of The Dead - Home Delivery, which was absolutely brutal, and one of my favorite zombie short stories of all time).

Based on this experience, I will be tackling some of King's other works, and will do so with a renewed appreciation for the one people call "The Master of Horror".

You can check out the author at his website, and grab Full Dark, No Stars at pretty much any location where books can be bought. Also, make sure you check out the website for the book itself, which has some incredible online peripherals, such as 'A Conversation with the Author', and other great treats for any fan of horror fiction.

PBH.

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your review. I also reviewed this book a few weeks ago and found "Fair Extension" to be my fave of the four. King has said that he's written a screenplay for "Good Marriage" so it may come to the big screen.

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  2. Glad to hear there is a possibility for "Good Marriage" to come to the big screen! Great story and one of my favorites.

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  3. Yeah, "Home Delivery" really creeped me out...

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  4. http://scotspec.blogspot.com/2010/11/book-review-full-dark-no-stars-by.html

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  5. Thanks for this nice book review. I enjoyed it. I read book reviews on different sites, I find your review very genuine and orignal.

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