Book Review: Stephen King proves he also is master of long story form, too
Reading my first Joe Hill book made me long for the words of his father, Stephen King. I recently bought “Full Dark, No Stars” at a used book sale because I figured concept of the long-story form – four stories in one book as opposed to one story in a 368-page tome – would mean I could breeze right through them.
What I wasn’t expecting was being too terrified to go to sleep and too anxious to put down the book. From the first novella within the collection, “1922,” I was busy trying to remember “Kingism” details from his previous books. For example, “1922” is set in Hemingford Home, Neb., a town that has been used before in some of King’s more famous tales (“The Stand,” and “It”) and it’s that type of detail that made me scurry throughout my bedroom, scanning my bookshelves to find out if “seeing” the book would help me remember where I heard that town before. (Yes, I know I could find my phone and Google it, but what fun is that when you’re already on a mission?)
In “1922,” a farmer convinces his teenage son to help him murder his wife, the boy’s mother, in a plan that he believes will allow him to retain the farm since her family owns the land and she wants to sell it. What he doesn’t realize is that in a King tale, no one ever really dies. So, Wilfred Leland James ends up becoming a tortured soul, whose life unravels as he his taunted by his late wife, Arlette, who slowly drives him insane. “I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger ” Wilf writes in his 1930 confession letter. It was pretty creepy envisioning nearly a decade of horrific haunting from his wife, who finds a way to take from him everything he cared about – including the now-worthless land.
“Big Driver” was the story that freaked me out the most, however. Because. It. Could. Really. Happen. “Big Driver” focuses on Tess, a mid-level, middle-aged mystery novel writer who is raped and left for dead after a speaking engagement at a library in Massachusetts. The tale is part horror movie, a cross between “Rest Stop” and “Wrong Turn,” and part Lifetime movie in that women should never drive alone. Anywhere. It’s King foreshadowing at its best.
While taking a shortcut recommended by the librarian, her SUV rolls over nail-studded pieces of wood on the road and she gets a flat tire. As she picks up the wood pieces, she thinks it would be a good plot for one of her books to find out later that someone intentionally left the wood there. And they did. As she is “rescued” by a big man in a pickup truck, she realizes she’s in trouble, but it’s too late.
After being knocked unconscious, she later wakes up and finds she has been left for dead in a culvert – along with the bodies of other murdered women. Tess escapes and worries that the tabloids will have a field day with this knowledge, saying she was “asking for it.” So she goes home and doesn’t tell anyone while she plots her revenge.
Using her detective skills, she discovers that her rapist is “Big Driver.” As she goes to murder him, she realizes she has the wrong man and that his brother, “Little Driver,” was the real killer. At this point, she’s in too deep and realizes the mother has to go, too the librarian who gave her the “shortcut.” After she does her dirty deeds, she goes home and feels at peace. And realizes that plot would make one heck of a story for her.
“A Good Marriage” explores the aftermath of a wife’s discovery of her husband’s double life.
While her husband is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage and ends up finding a box filled with something horrible. She never had a suspicion that her husband is the man behind decades of gruesome murders and is shocked by the revelation in the box. This is the story of how well you know someone even your spouse. And what Darcy finds definitely ends what she thought was a good marriage.
The shortest and funniest story in the book was “Fair Extension,” which is about a dying man and the deal he makes with the devil. Dave Streeter discovers he has an unusual form of cancer that surely will kill him in the next few months.
While on a drive by the airport, he sees a roadside stand manned by the devil, who offers to “transfer the weight” of his suffering on to someone else. The deal offers a “fair extension” of about 20 years to his life. So Dave chooses his best friend, whom he believes has always had better luck and fortune. Of course, when Dave sees the terrible events unfold for his friend, he actually relishes in his misfortune.
While these stories aren’t King’s best work, they are typical of his dark style. As he writes in the afterword, “I have tried my best to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances.”