Stephen King – Full Dark, No Stars (Scribner, 2010) –
A collection of four “long stories” penned by – in my opinion – one of the greatest writers of our time, Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars isn’t chock full of surprises or shocks. Anyone who has read even just a handful of his novels and short stories fully knows what to expect from his work…but that’s not to say that it’s predictable. Hardly! At the risk of coming off as completely contradictory, I find there is a comfort level in King’s stories that you get with no other writer: his plotlines may alternately – or all at once! – horrify, amuse, or beguile, but they do so consistently. His work is always, faithfully, flawlessly, INTERESTING. His observations of human condition, emotion, and reaction are always impeccably drawn, no matter what manner of conflict he subjects his characters to. The stories in Full Dark, No Stars are unpleasant to consider, but they draw you in with bullseye precision, begging to be devoured.
“1922” captures life on a struggling farm in Nebraska, an exploration of weather and isolation and unbearable secrets, all churning around the daily grind of farm life. It’s the idea that something like 100 acres of land could be worth killing for, and the terrible cost to a family. It’s the dichotomy of rich and poor, of money and relationships: there’s even a doomed love story knotted up within the main plot. “1922” reads like classic King, complete with a deliciously-vicious ending that smacks of the good old stuff. “Big Driver” details the subsequent mental breakdown of a woman, Tess, who is raped and badly hurt by a truck driver on an isolated road: it’s a revenge tale, to be sure, but the way it unfolds is breathtaking in scope and detail. Tess’ process of unhinging is extremely believable and her reaction to her situation, while extraordinarily drastic, seems darkly justified. “Fair Extension” is the shortest tale in the book, and by far, the most ridiculous – it’s one of those pieces akin to his “psycho cat” stories, toothy and actually kind of funny in a really sadistic way. In it, a down and out man riddled with cancer finds a way to overcome the fact that he has been short-changed on life, a terribly horrible way that only SK can pull off. “A Good Marriage” may have the most interesting plot of them all: 27 years into their seemingly ideal marriage, Darcy finds a stash of troubling articles hidden in the garage and she comes to realize that her husband is a monster, possessing a dark side she never knew about. King deftly explores the dynamics of a loving relationship, all the little quirks and habits and wonders that couples have. How could Bob have kept his secret from Darcy all that time? And now that she knows, how does she deal with it? The solution is beautifully gut-wrenching, and while King writes in his afterword that he’s never been in it to write literary fiction, that he only seeks to entertain, it’s a sure thing that some of this stuff will get your ticker charged up and your brain spinning…and not just because you’re being “entertained.”