Posted by: Jeanie F | November 16, 2010

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I seem to be on a fairly low-brow reading jag lately: Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and now – God forbid! – Stephen King! With my curiosity piqued by a review of King’s newest book – Full Dark, No Stars – I pre-ordered it on my Kindle and received it Friday morning. I’ve been struggling through Thomas Kineally’s A River Town and was happy for the diversion. I started reading right away.

Let me just begin by saying, these are very creepy stories. If you are squeamish, this is NOT the book for you. Nevertheless, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any Stephen King, and I’ve sort of missed the shock of his graphic situations and images. Not really a story collection, but not exactly novellas, these four offerings fall somewhere in between.

The first story, “1922,” is the story of a Nebraska farmer whose disagreeable wife wants to sell her inherited land to a “hog butchery,” a large, industrialized hog farm. This land is adjacent to the farmer, Wilf James’s, own property, and Wilf doesn’t like the idea of living next to such a place. He also doesn’t like her recommendation that they sell his land as well, and move to town. Wilf’s response to this impasse has dire effects on his wife, Arlette, their son, Hank, and Wilf, himself.

The second story, “Big Driver,” is the story of Tess, a popular novelist who writes a mystery series called The Willow Grove Knitting Society. She is contacted to fill in as a guest speaker at the Chicopee Public Library when the previously scheduled speaker makes a last-minute cancellation. Chicopee is close enough to Tess’s home – little more than sixty miles – that Tess can easily make the drive there and back in a single day, so she agrees to take the booking. Mayhem follows.

Story Three, “Fair Extension,” was my least favorite in the collection – a fairly predictable tale of Mr. Streeter, a man with terminal cancer who makes a deal with the devil. It isn’t his own soul that he sells, but we know going into this that nothing good can come of trading your fate for Lucifer’s promises.

The final story, “A Good Marriage,” is the most interesting in the collection. Darcellen Anderson has been married to her accountant husband, Bob, for nearly thirty years when she discovers that she really doesn’t know him. What she learns is not only shocking, but a stark reminder to us all that we never really “know” another person’s heart.

As is typical of King’s work, he takes events that are possible – premises we all encounter in our own lives – and then pushes the envelope to its outer, most gruesome, limits. He has a gift for getting us deeply enough inside the characters that we go willingly, agreeing to suspend our disbelief for as long as he wants. And even though we know it’s Stephen King, so nothing good will come of it, we stay with him to the bitter end, hoping against hope that maybe it won’t be as bad as we think. No such luck!

Perhaps one of the best things about this collection is King’s “Afterword”. He begins by admitting that the stories are “harsh,” such an understatement that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. He goes on to explain that he takes storytelling very seriously as a way to make sense of the world. He’s interested in ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations, which is certainly the theme in this collection. King says:

I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal. . .if the tale is good enough and the characters vivid enough, thinking will supplant emotion when the tale has been told and the book set aside (sometimes with relief).

In this goal, I would say that King has been successful. I raced through these stories – sometimes wanting to cover my eyes as I read – just to find out what was going to happen. However, I feel fairly certain that I will remember these characters and events – all of which have some tie-in to real world events and/or places – for a long time. Whether I want to or not!

Grade: A


Responses

  1. Terrific review! I’m desperate to start this so here’s hoping it’s under my Xmas tree 🙂

  2. Just keep it away from young children!!

  3. I love Stephen King. His books may not carry great literary significance (though I think the Stand and his Dark Tower series are brilliant), but he is a master of creating characters.

    • AND scaring the bejeezus out of us! Actually, for a writer of horror fiction, I think he’s pretty literary.

  4. I have a soft spot for Stephen King and I was thinking of downloading this as it had a good review by Neil Gaiman and then I saw your review!

    I’m in the mood for more shorter scarer stories and you’ve convinced me (not that I needed much convincing)

    • Jessica, grab that Kindle and get reading! I like short stories in general, and Stephen King’s specifically, as a nice change of pace from a full novel. I have so much respect for an author who can create a complete world in so few words!

  5. The only thing I’ve read from him in the last two decades is On Writing, but after your review, I’m willing to put Fire Starter behind me and give him another try.

    • I thought On Writing was one of the best “writing” books I’ve ever read – just like the Afterword is one of the best parts of this book. Whatever you think of King’s writing, his THINKING about writing is interesting and, often, inspirational. I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about this book.


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