Yep, it’s dark all right.
Stephen King’s most recent (I think?) short story collection Full Dark, No Stars was a return for me to “classic” Stephen King. And I have to say, I enjoyed it, although I’m not sure I’m jumping headlong back into that pool o’ crazy just yet.
I mean, I stopped reading Stephen King for good reasons. I grew weary of the gore and found it was no longer as shocking to me as it once had been and that was worrisome. I also found that as I got older I didn’t need my fiction to feel so dark and dire all the time. Finally, it just seemed that the last few of his novels that I read really didn’t resonate with me. These were Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder, Insomnia, and a bit later, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. These felt formulaic to me, even “phoned-in,” and the formula just wasn’t working anymore. So I gave away all of my copies of his novels (shocking!) and really didn’t pick up another for good decade or so.
When I finally did, it was with some reservations. I first tried Under the Dome, which I liked but didn’t love because of the uber-weird alien ending; again, it felt same-old, same-old. But then, I heard about the JFK/time travel plot of 11/22/63 and decided the premise was compelling enough and significantly DIFFERENT enough that I could give it a try. And I was pleasantly surprised. Although a few of my favorite characters made cameo appearances (in Derry even!), it didn’t feel forced or overdone or like it was trying to hard to be the “next great Stephen King Novel.” (Yes, I have to admit, I even referred to it in my head like that!)
Anyway, I digress. Back to THIS book: Full Dark, No Stars is reminiscent of early SK short story collections such as Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, but for the most part, it felt new enough that I could accept it. It wasn’t over the top. It didn’t make me sleep with the lights on. It wasn’t trying too hard…and because of that, it worked.
In “1922,” a farmer kills his wife because of a disagreement of how their land should be used. His son helps. Disaster ensues. No surprises here.
“Big Driver,” though, completely got me. This one had a reasonably predictable plot and no aliens or anything too ridiculous or unreal (yep, I’m looking at you, Tommyknockers). Personally, I think Stephen King is at his absolute best when writing about everyday folks acting really sketchy when confronted with difficult situations. In this one, a writer is raped and left for dead. She survives and decides to get revenge on her own terms. Perfect.
The next in the collection, “Fair Extension,” was a dud to me. It felt a bit like Thinner or Needful Things in that make-a-deal-with-the-devil Faustian way. Thus, it bored me and I felt it had an unsatisfying ending.
“A Good Marriage” was better; a woman discovers that her husband of 20 years has been hiding a TERRIBLE secret. To preserve herself, her sanity, her family structure, and the reputations of her children, she must then decide if she can live with and keep his terrible secret. This one was my favorite. I liked the descriptions of marriage and her accidental discoveries and ponderings about what we really know about those we love. This one had the most vivid imagery as well (check out that protruding neck knob, why dontcha?). It was almost a lights-on kinda night 🙂
The fifth story, which seemed to be added as a bonus (as it was really short, not listed in the Table of Contents, and came after the Afterword), was sort of predictable but still a good read. In “Under the Weather,” a man goes about his daily life at home and at work while his sick wife ails in bed, “rats” die in the closed-up flat next door, and he experiences haunting dreams of something under the bed “chewing.” Lovely.
Enjoyable departure into the familiar (and totally psychotic?) writing of Stephen King. This may have been the palate cleanser I needed to end my reading rut 🙂