Saturday, March 19, 2011

the king has not left the building

I love the cover of Full Dark, No Stars. I also like how it assures me that Mr. Stephen King has not cast off his writing cape and settled down into a chair to watch the sunset. A diet of Harlan Ellison seems to have eroded my ability to welcome and relish a large novel. I seem to prefer starting off with a few short stories before progressing to novellas. This might explain why Lisey's Story still stands unread on my bookshelf. This was despite the fact that Cell and Duma Key went back to the library shelves after I had read and enjoyed them, as did Under the Dome. Then again, Just after Sunset didn't work that well for me. It was as uneven as King's previous collections, but Full Dark, No Stars has changed all that. Perhaps this is because novellas seem to strike a good balance between short stories and novels. The four stories in this compilation contain all the elements familiar to fans of King's work -- 1922 mixes times of depression with an ode to Bonnie and Clyde and serves it up with elements from Poe. The story is narrated by Wilfred James, who confesses to and describes the murder of his wife. The narrative isn't as feverish as that of The Tell-Tale Heart and when the story is done, you may wonder if Mr. James was lying.

I had saved this novella for the end, but it was not a great way for me to end the collection. I should have tackled this right after my first pick, Fair Extension, where King explores the familiar Faustian bargain. Once Dave Streeter has signed the dotted line with George Elvid (hint: shuffle the letters in the last name), a cousin of Leland Gaunt, no doubt, King describes the unfolding of events like a long news story. It reminded me of Frederick Forsyth's The Art of the Matter.

Big Driver is the story of a woman who pays the price of taking a shortcut and then exacts her revenge. This is the stuff of EC comics with all humour of any kind stripped away. Rape is serious business and King makes sure every smile we crack is with Tess and never at her. The appropriate presence of films like The Last House on the Left and The Brave One is an Eastwoodian touch -- they do not beg to be treated as clever as they would have been in a Tarantino script.

A Good Marriage explores a good idea that I would imagine has been explored before (pointers welcome): imagine that you were the wife of someone like Mr. Brooks. Darcy Anderson discovers her husband's dark secret in a way that a character in a Stephen King story would and then tries to come to terms with it. King was inspired to write this story after the general public refused to accept that Paula Radar, the wife of Dennis Radar, the BTK killer, had been married to him for about thirty years and never knew anything about his evil deeds. The possibility is chilling as is the story.

Each story has a character killing someone (indirectly in Fair Extension) and ends with the character coming to terms with the deed, perhaps even being at peace after experiencing the moral conflict familiar to those who abhor violence. The writing is uncomplicated and boasts the ease, comfort and familiarity that King surely has come to enjoy after all these years. It's time to find a copy at a book sale and fill the spot once I (hopefully) manage to begin Lisey's Story.

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