Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review - January 23, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars
Stephen King

When you've read as much Stephen King as I have and been disappointed by a large percentage, a book of four novellas, or in this case one novella and three of varying length short stories, doesn't exactly set your heart pounding. There was once a time when a new SK book would have me rushing to the book store on the day of its release, but now I'm more than happy to wait for Christmas and begin reading it when all the fuss has died down.

Full Dark, No Stars isn't a return to form, because most of these type of King books tend to be entertaining. Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight have both yielded memorable stories, the most famous being Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body both of which were made into excellent films. I expect at least two in this book to make good feature films, it's just a matter of which ones they are.

My guess would be that Big Driver and A Good Marriage will end up as films of variable quality; but lets start at the beginning of the book and 1922. This is another of King's homages, in part, to H.P. Lovecraft. The author claims it was inspired by a non-fiction book about Wisconsin, but it reminded me of The Rats in the Walls, with a little of Poe's The Telltale Heart thrown in for good measure. This is a story about madness and the power to ruin your own life through guilt. It revolves around the murder of a dislikeable wife and the consequences for the two reasonably decent men responsible for it. Being set in a time when things get overlooked makes this easier to believe, but despite it being the longest story of the four, I felt it often got lost in itself, like King had the belief that with a few more twists and turns it could have been another Dolores Claiborne. Fortunately it didn't as this was by far the weakest and most predictable of the four tales.

Big Driver is the first King story I've read in a while where I could imagine it all visually and I was surprised at how well the simple story worked as both a morality piece and a revenge thriller. It concerns the rape and brutal beating of a nearly middle-aged writer and her subsequent retribution. It goes along at a cracking pace and has you rooting for her from almost the word go. It's one of those stories that if it was a film you would be cheering by the end. It reminded me of a time when King seemed to care a lot for his creations and actually made therm real people. It also spirals out of control in a believable way.

Fair Extension is my favourite of the four stories, but only just. It tells the story of a good man who is dying of cancer and the opportunity he has of extending his life. It is the only really supernatural tale and has elements of The Dark Tower, Needful Things and the Derry mythos, especially as some of the action takes place in a familiar part of Derry if you've read Insomnia. The dying man in question must trade his impending death for the chance to live 15, maybe 20, maybe even 25 more years; but his trade has to involve ruining someone else's life. The life the dying man chooses is that of his best friend; a man who has nothing but good luck. Fair Extension is just 30 pages long - it's barely a short story, but it's shocking in its coldness and it proves that King is still capable of delivering shocks.

A Good Marriage was almost my favourite, but was beaten to it by Fair Extension because the story of a woman who discovers her husband is a serial killer seemed almost rushed at some points. It could quite easily have been a longer and potentially creepier story, but too many things happened too quickly for it to work entirely for me. but, saying that, it is a strange story that led me to ask the wife what she thought her reaction would be if she found out I'd been a serial killer for best part of our marriage. I can see this being made into a very good film, especially if the film makers are not scared to delve into the parts that King almost breezes over. Admittedly this is a story about a wife's reaction, but it would have worked better if we'd seen more of the inner workings of Beadie - the totally insane split personality of her, on the surface, totally normal husband.

Over all, Full Dark, No Stars is a treat. It has three totally creepy stories, four if the first one floats your boat, and harks back to an era when King could deliver a scare or two without seeming like a cliché of himself. Therefore I feel compelled to give it an 8 out of 10.

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