Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King: What Would You Do?
Full Dark, No Stars
A collection of four stories by Stephen King
What would you do?
You'll notice that I haven't referred to this as a collection of 'short stories' as many people do. That's because each of these can be considered a book in itself. I'd like to point out too that if the name of Stephen King immediately suggests outlandish horror stories to you, that isn't the case with this book.
In these four stories, we meet four people. All are living normal lives but chance (is there such a thing?) brings about the most extraordinary changes to their lives. As you read, you'll be asking yourself 'would I have done that?'
Each tells the story of one person - and these are just ordinary people. Two stories center around women, Tess and Darcy, and two are about men, Wilf and Dave. There is nothing unusual about these people - we have a writer, a housewife, a farmer and a bank official.
There are no looming monsters in sight, no strange supernatural forces and no unbelievable twists in the plot. Yet each of our four main characters find something within themselves, a part of their nature that is released by the circumstances in which they find themselves.
As you ask yourself what you would do in these situations, you'll largely sympathise with them - or will you?
Many years ago I used to read Stephen King's books and yes, I enjoyed them. But I grew tired of reading about the impossible. I discovered books where the horror was to be found in ordinary, everyday lives - the sort of story that I could truly imagine happening. Are we the true monsters?
That's exactly what you'll find in Full Dark, No Stars.
A marital problem
The farmer, his wife and their son
This is the first story in the book and, as you can tell from the title, begins with events that happened in 1922. We meet an ordinary family. Wilf is a hard-working farmer working his own land. Although he's not incredibly prosperous he, and his wife and son, live good lives.
But the problem began when his wife, Arlette, was left acreage by her father - land that was adjacent to the farm. Arlette wanted to sell this land to a company that manufactured processed meats. With the proceeds, she wanted the family to move to the city as she had never fully become accustomed to farming life.
Wilf though was a country boy. He saw no reason why the land couldn't be farmed along with that he already owned. The couple rowed bitterly, dragging their only son - just fourteen years of age - into the dispute. It was breaking up the family. But they could not agree.
Wilf could only see one way out of the situation...
An ordinary journey
A woman's nightmare
The stories which are written from a woman's point of view tend to intrigue me a little more. This isn't surprising as it's easier for me to imagine myself in those situations. Novelist Tess finds herself in a situation that maybe many women have experienced. She is stranded by the side of a country road with a flat tyre on her car.
What would you do? Exactly what Tess did, I imagine, and reach for your cellphone. Triple A could sort this out in no time. But this was a remote area with no reception. Never mind, it wouldn't be the first time I've changed a car tyre. It's so much easier for a strong guy to do it though (and you don't risk breaking fingernails).
As luck would have it, a passing motorist stopped to help. He drew up in his ramshackle pickup truck and, although any woman would be wary in this situation, it looked as though help was at hand when he offered to change the wheel for her. She noticed though that this man was huge - over 300 lbs - and that she would have little chance should he not be a knight in shining armour.
Her fears were realised when he said casually 'Instead of changing your tyre, how about I....'
A man who is dying
A deal with the devil?
This is the only story in the book with a 'supernatural' element. Or is it? Isn't this really a story about human nature? Dave has cancer. He's a happily married man with children but we're aware right from the beginning of the story that he doesn't have long to live. When out for a drive, he has a strange encounter.
The fact that the man he meets is called George Elvid made the anagrammer in me (look again at the last name) think that what we have coming up here is the supernatural. Is Dave going to sell his soul in order to extend his life? (Bearing in mind also the title of this story.) But that would be underestimating Stephen King and his storytelling.
Mr Elvid tells Dave that certainly he can extend his life. But there's none of that business about selling his soul or sacrificing his firstborn - this is simply a monetary deal. There is one condition though. Elvid can only do this is Dave tells him about someone he really hates. So Dave tells him about his best friend Tom - a friend from childhood through to present day - who he has always resented.
Dave tells Elvid all about him. His bottled up resentment comes out in full flow. Elvid tells him to go an see his doctor in ten days - the cancer will be gone. Dave suddenly realises the implications. "Will Tom get cancer?' He asks."No' Elvid tells him 'Although why should you care? You hate him'.
Dave responded 'But...'
A Good Marriage
The happily married couple
Or are they?
Darcy and Bob have been married for over twenty years. They have a great marriage. They're still in love, they have fun together and they have two grown children who are smart and attractive. Bob is a level-headed accountant and the couple had also built up a small business around his hobby - coin-collecting.
Sometimes Bob would travel and stay away overnight in pursuit of rare coins but this was of no concern to Darcy. After all those years, she trusted her husband implicitly. She was a realistic woman but felt secure in her relationship. Suddenly, because of the most mundane circumstance, this was to change.
Bob was away meeting someone who was selling some coins he was interested in. Darcy was, as always, unconcerned. That evening, just as she was settling in front of the TV, she realised the batteries in the remote had died. No problem. She knew that there were spare batteries in the section of the garage that Bob used as his workshop.
There, she accidentally discovers something that her husband had kept well hidden. No, it wasn't evidence that he was having an affair - it was much, much worse than that...
The quote above is from Stephen King's 3½ page afterword. That's almost as chilling as the stories in the book, especially as those stories appear to prove that it's the truth.
Does that include ourselves?
All four of the major characters in the book found that the consequences of their situations made them behave in ways that they would never have imagined.
Another book by Stephen King showing us what the real monsters are.
The people in this book are ordinary - as ordinary as you and me. They have regular jobs and normal home lives. That is, until they meet the monsters that are harboured within other 'ordinary' people.
Is an older and wiser Stephen King telling us that yes, monsters do exist? Not vampires, not green slimy fabrications of a fertile imagination, not ghosts and ghouls?
Is he telling us that the real monsters are within the people we know? Even within the people we love?
And even within ourselves?
© 2014 Jackie Jackson