Full Dark, No Stars: (A Book Review)
Today we're looking at a compendium of short novels, or novellas, by Stephen King. The book is Full Dark, No Stars. The version I have in my hands is hardcover, about 364 pages long, not including the author's afterword. It was published by Scribner in 2010.
We're looking at four short novels. The first is 1922 at about one-hundred-thirty-three pages; followed by Big Driver at one-hundred-fourteen pages; third is Fair Extension at a mere thirty-four pages (really a long short story); and the last is A Good Marriage at eighty-one pages.
What kind of book is "Full Dark, No Stars"?
I would say to Stephen King/horror purists, so to speak, that you guys should have the most fun reading the story, "1922," because it is "classic" Stephen King horror. What I mean by that is that the first entry is a true "horror" story, in the way that I usually define the term, "horror."
What I mean by the term, "horror," is that knowledge of an alternate reality is imposed upon human consciousness by an external, supernatural agency, with terrifying and violent results. But here's the thing: In this story the agency of delivery of the horror are rats. Just plain old rats.
But the rats are made to act in a supernatural fashion. That is to say, the rats are made to be the carriers of supernatural power and purpose. In this way the true monster---if there can be said to be a true monster---is never unmasked.
However, this story is not magical realism, as I usually define the term. To me, magical realism is the human discovery of an alternate reality, or an aspect of reality that supplements life as we normally know it. So then, in the story "1922," just because common, everyday rats are the agents and carriers of supernatural purpose and power, indicative of an alternate reality, we are not dealing with "magical realism," because we are never given to understand that rats, in general, have properties that we have never appreciated before.
Does that make sense?
That is to say, it seems very clear that the supernatural agency is being channeled through a specific, local "tribe," if you will, of rats.
The basic story is this: A farmer murders his wife, who wants to sell the family plot and move to the city. The husband does not want to sell out because he hates the very idea of the city; but he is not in a position of strength, since the bulk of the land comes from her side of the family. The farmer, with the help of his young son, murders the wife and throws her down a well.
Here, rats start to become involved, channeling a supernatural agency in a remarkable way, let us say, to the psychological torment of the farmer. I don't want to give too much away, so that's all I'll say about the plot. But again, this story will do you if you're in the mood for a good, old fashioned ghost/ghoul story.
2. Big Driver
This is the story of a woman, a writer of so-called "cozy" mystery novels, who gives a talk about her latest novel at a bookstore. On her way home, by way of a "shortcut," she finds herself stuck on a road, where she is subsequently raped and left for dead. Mind you, the description of the act is pretty tough to read, and in the afterword, Stephen King says that certain parts were hard for him to write, no doubt referring to that scene.
The woman survives and goes on to take murderous revenge: triple murder. We are given to understand that three people were the source of the specific physical act of one man against her.
I want you to look out for something. I won't say what it is because I don't want to give too much away, but there is a truly evil turn this story takes. A truly evil turn!
This story is a revenge/action story, which you could fairly call a thriller, as I usually define the term, in that we have a series of events, each containing a "momentous immediacy," which come together and climax into a "shattering conclusion."
3. Fair Extension
I would characterize this story as dark urban fantasy. I call it "urban" because the story unfolds over the landscape of contemporary, American, city life. I call it "fantasy," certainly as opposed to "horror," per se, because the story introduces supernatural agency and power without focused malevolence---I'll come back to that.
I call the story "dark," as opposed to "regular" fantasy, so to speak, because there is no room whatsoever for what you might call, untroubled wonder.
Mr. King called this the shortest and nastiest of this compendium. The story is about a man dying of cancer, who meets another man (obviously not a human being, but assuming the form) who offers to change his life for him, grant him his most heartfelt desires and dreams.
But of course, as ever, there is a catch. Here comes the "dark fantasy" part, which leaves "no room whatsoever for what you might call untroubled wonder." In order to receive his life makeover, the man has to choose someone he has a personal relationship with, to take the bad stuff.
That is to say, that in this reality depicted, one cannot simply, say, wish for a million dollars without wishing that someone else lose one million dollars. Nothing is produced out of thin air.
Are you following me?
The man has to make a painful decision. He does make it. There is someone he chooses to take the bad stuff. There is someone he, in fact, hates: his best friend!
I don't call this "horror," again, because the mysterious benefactor bears no grudge against anyone in particular. In fact, there is really no actual malevolence exhibited by the mysterious stranger or the powers he represents. He---the mysterious stranger---simply lays down the facts of life of a harsh universe. He simply reminds us of something we should have known, that you truly cannot get something for nothing in this life.
4. A Good Marriage
This is the kind of story that most of us may be well used to: from watching the LMN network; from Mary Higgins Clark romantic suspense novels-turned into made-for-television movies; I'm talking about Julia Roberts, "Sleeping With The Enemy" territory, and the like.
Basically the story is about a woman who had been happily, and certainly contentedly married for a quarter century. The only problem is that her husband---this loving, gentle, considerate man---is also an un-apprehended serial killer, who has been active for that long, whom the authorities know as "Beadie."
Our heroine discovers this, quite by accident, one day. After that it simply remains for the reader to do is follow how that plays out.
Well, basically, that is what you will be in for, should you decide to read Stephen King's compendium, Full Dark, No Stars. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Thank you for reading!