Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Thursday, December 30, 2010Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
The latest offering from King takes us down a familiar routine, similar to Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons. Some of these novella collections have given us some truly incredible stories, such as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Apt Pupil, and the overlooked Langoliers, Library Policeman and Secret Window, Secret Garden. How will this latest collection stack up against some that others may consider classics?
In 1922, Wilfred James is a farmer with a big problem. His wife has recently inherited some land, and a firm wants to by it to build a pig slaughtering plant. She's keen. He's not, as this would mean selling all their land and moving to the city, which he despises. With only one option out of the mess, the farmer grooms his only son into assisting with the murder and disposal of his wife. What follows is an extreme revenge from beyond the grave.
Big Driver. An Agatha Christie-esque mystery writer is on her way home from a speaking engagement and takes an advised shortcut. Driving over nailed bits of wood, her car blows a tyre. The friendly trucker who stops to help turns out to be not very friendly...not very friendly at all.
In Fair Extension, a man dying of cancer makes a deal with the Devil, agreeing for a 'fair extension' of his life. But is the price too high?
Finally, A Good Marriage follows a woman and her marriage to a nice, quiet, meticulous accountant over 27 years. One night, while he's away on business, she fatefully trips over a cardboard box in the garage. Its contents take her on a dark journey into her husband's secret life.
You've probably noticed that I've given Full Dark, No Stars 3/5 stars if you're reading this on Goodreads.
It's not a bad book, but none of the tales featured within blew me away. I've always defended King, but as I read through the collection, it became apparent that some of the arguments against his writing style were cropping up. 1922 did extremely little with the large chunk of the book it takes up. Most of the story involves the protagonist feeling sad and lonely in his farmhouse, while the real action of the story, that of his son, is a mere subplot. Disappointing.
The second story held no real shock value for me, especially after reading Ketchum. I did like the mystery elements and the twists; obviously in key with the main character, the mystery writer! It was an intriguing tale and its second half made this my favourite of the four.
Fair Extension, which is a short story nestled among the three other novellas, was the biggest disappointment. This offered nothing original, in fact, Caroline B. Cooney's Vampire Trilogy I read as a young teen executed the idea better. Sorry, Stevie. Guess I'll never get a cover blurb now...
A Good Marriage was decent enough, but I like to gradually see characterisation emerge. You know, like how you get to know someone through what they do and say? King does his normal thing of giving us pages and pages of information straight off the bat regarding the couple in the Good Marriage. This info could have been leaked throughout the story...hang on...it was? No wonder the piece, just like 1922, felt fifty pages too long.
It's not a bad book. In my opinion, King cannot write a true stinker, but this falls far from his best. A shame, as I've been really looking forward to this book. Oh, and the cover IS a stinker, by the way. What were they thinking?