Stephen King's 'Full Dark, No Stars': A Review
Stephen King's latest entry into his impressive repertoire.
Full Dark, No Stars
I'm very aware of who Stephen King is and what he's all about. I've seen the film adaptations of his best works: 'Thinner', 'Carrie', 'Christine', 'It', 'Pet Cemetery', etc. but never got the opportunity to read the book versions. I thought picking up the newest offering from Mr. King would be a great introduction into the story telling supremacy that he brings to the literary table. What I didn't realize is 'Full Dark, No Stars' is actually a collection of new short stories. I'm wondering if King was pleased with this work or if it was a novel he used to fill a contractual obligation. The title says a lot about the novel, the stories are good, but nothing special can be found between the covers. I'm not questioning King's writing talent by any means, but the ball was dropped somewhere along the line.
The book opens up with '1922'. Wilfred James, a corn farmer, lives a very simple life with his wife, Arnette, and son, Hank. Despite Wilfred's content with the simple life, Arnette dreams of something more than her contrary country life. When she's awarded a good chunk of land from her father's will, she thinks that her prayers have been answered. Dollar signs appear in her eyes when a pig butchery offers to pay top dollar for the prime property. Hoping to preserve the farm community and prevent the land from being contaminated by the butchery, Wilfred begins lobbying against his wife. One night, after a drunken argument, Wilfred convinces Hank that Arnette needs to be dealt with. Permanently. Working together, they make sure Arnette meets a rather violent end. As if cursed, Wilfred's life begins to descend into ruin. His crops wither and his livestock slowly dies. The farm collapses on top of him. Hank runs off in search of a lost love. Left penniless and distraught, Wilfred contemplates suicide until Arnette's phantom and army of rats decide to take matters into their own hands. Revenge is truly the sweetest dish when served cold.
'Big Driver' is next in line. While this story stands out as not only the most intriguing, it is also the most well written of the group. Easily the most believable piece of the bunch and the characters are incredibly lifelike. In this story, you'll meet Tessa Jean. Tess is a young mystery writer doing her best to earn a living selling her novels and through making public appearances. On her way home from a speaking engagement, she runs into a bit of car trouble. A trucker stops, but instead of assisting Tess with her dilemma, he assaults her sexually. Where the story really sucks the reader in is with the emotional and psychological trauma she is fighting to overcome.The attack is all that Tess can think about, tormenting her every thought. Deciding her fate lies in stopping her attacker from claiming any more victims, she goes on the offensive. Returning to the scene of the assault, Tess is determined to end the truckers reign of terror he holds over her life. While it's fairly unlikely, I can see something similar on a headline somewhere. The only real snag in this story is the ending. I'm left wondering what happens to Tess, since the story ends abruptly.
'Fair Extension' is next in line. Definitely a story that will grab your attention, but will also leave you wondering what you would do in a similar situation. Dave Streeter, a terminally ill cancer patient, is driving home from work when a strange street vendor catches his attention. This vendor isn't offering newspapers or food wares, but offers various types of extensions. Life extensions, memory extensions, beauty extensions, wealth extension, 'appendage' extensions... you get the idea. Hoping to stay with his family a little longer, Dave accepts a life extension but must choose another person to suffer extreme misfortune in return. After he's made his difficult decision, he is forced to watch as the life of his replacement crumbles. Streeter transforms from a character that you'll sympathize with into one that you'll loathe. Especially since he sits back and enjoys watching the suffering that he's caused. While the characters are drawn well, I find myself wanting more and feeling very unsatisfied.
'All Dark, No Stars' closes with 'A Good Marriage'. This story really makes you wonder if your partner is who they say they are. Do you really know someone? Can someone ever be 100% trustworthy? Darcy thought she knew her husband, Bob, better than he knew himself. After being married for twenty-seven years, a chance find in her husband's work station turns her world upside down. This find makes Darcy question everything that she ever knew about her husband. Bob Anderson, devoted husband and father, accountant, boy scout leader, avid coin collector... schizophrenic serial killer? Can Darcy overlook Bob's new identity? Or can she get to the bottom of the mystery before she finds herself as the next victim.
The stories in 'All Dark, No Stars' all seem half baked and incomplete. While King excelled at developing characters, he needed a little bit more meat and finesse in the bodies of each story. A lot of people say that King has lost his touch... his spark, but I don't necessarily agree. With a little bit of inspiration, he could go back to his seat at the head of the horror writers table. I haven't been deterred from Stephen King as a novelist and I already have more of his novels on order. Despite this misstep, King has the kind of longevity in his career that three quarters of today's writers wished they could have. I'll give this novel three stars, what is presented to us is written well, I just wish there was a little more in some places. The pace is great and there isn't much hesitation at the start of each story. With each tale easily read in as little as a single sitting, you'll fly through this book in no time.