Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Simon & Schuster,  2010
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781439192566

“I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger…” writes Wilfred Leland James at the start of a riveting confession that makes up “1922,” the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerizing tales from Stephen King. For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife Arlette proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness.
In “Big Driver,” a cozy-mystery writer named Tess encounters a stranger along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face to face with another stranger: the one inside herself.
“Fair Extension,” the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil not only saves Harry Streeter from a fatal cancer but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment.
When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It’s a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends a good marriage.
My Thoughts:

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King features four novellas that examine the dark side of human nature. 

"1922" is Nebraska farmer Wilfred James' confession to the murder of his wife. He talks his son into helping him murder her before she can sell the land her father left to her and move to Omaha.  Wilfred is a conniving man, but guilt can be burdensome and followed by madness.

In "Big Driver" Tess, an author of cozy mysteries, is out for revenge after being ambushed, beaten, raped, and left for dead. Sometimes retribution is the only answer.

In "Fair Extension" Dave Streeter, a man with terminal cancer, is offered fifteen or more years of life. The catch is that not only does he have to pay, but he also has to name someone he hates, someone to have the dirty done to them if the dirty is to be lifted from him.

How well do you know your spouse? In "A Good Marriage" Darcy and Bob have been together 27 years. Darcy discovers a dark secret her husband has been hiding and must make a decision on what to do about it.

Fans of King's short stories have probably already read this collection. Even though I didn't officially participate in Carl's R.I.P. IV Challenge, this is certainly the time of year for some terrifying tales. While I found "1922" almost too graphic, I thought "A Good Marriage" was perhaps the most satisfying of the four stories for me. "Big Driver" and "Fair Extension" both closely followed. Be forewarned that this collection of short stories is gruesome and graphic. Detractors may want to deny it, but King proves time and time again that not only is he prolific, he is a good writer. Very Highly Recommended (if I were still giving stars I'd give it 4.5)


And I know where I shall find myself after this earthly life is done. I wonder if Hell can be worse than the City of Omaha. Perhaps it is the City of Omaha, but with good country surrounding it... pg. 4

I believe that there is another man inside of every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man. And I believe that by March of 1922, when Hemingford County skies were white and every field was a snowscrimmed mudsuck, the Conniving Man inside Farmer Wilfred James had already passed judgment on my wife and decided her fate. "Twas justice of the black-cap variety, too. pg. 4

Tess didn't believe in past lifetimes, or future ones for that matter - in metaphysical terms, she thought what you saw was pretty much what you got - but she liked the idea of a life where she was not a small woman with an elfin face, a shy smile, and a job writing cozy mysteries, but a big guy with a hat shading his sunburned brow and grizzled cheeks, letting a bulldog hood ornament lead him along the million roads that crisscross the country. pg. 136

Whether you could put a price tag on pain, rape, and terror was a question the Knitting Society ladies had never taken up. pg. 138

"I specialize only in extensions, a very American product. I've sold love extensions, sometimes called potions to the lovelorn, loan extensions to the cash-strapped - plenty of those in this economy - time extensions to those under some sort of deadline, and once an eye extension to a fellow who wanted to become an Air Force pilot and knew he couldn't pass the vision test." pg. 253

"You have to transfer the weight. In words of one syllable, you have to do the dirty to someone else if the dirty is to be lifted from you..... But it can't be just anyone. The old anonymous sacrifice has been tried, and it doesn't work. It has to be someone you hate. Is there someone you hate, Mr. Streeter?" pg. 255

The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage, was this: How’s your marriage? They asked how was your weekend and how was your trip to Florida and how’s your health and how are the kids; they even asked how’s life been treatin you, hon? But nobody asked how’s your marriage?
Good, she would have answered the question before that night. Everything’s fine. pg. 283

A successful marriage was a balancing act—that was a thing everyone knew. A successful marriage was also dependent on a high tolerance for irritation—this was a thing Darcy knew. As the Stevie Winwood song said, you had to roll widdit, baby.
She rolled with it. So did he. pg. 286

Did she know everything about him? Of course not. No more than he knew everything about her....  There was no knowing everything, but she felt that after twenty-seven years, they knew all the important things. It was a good marriage, one of the fifty percent or so that kept working over the long haul. She believed that in the same unquestioning way she believed that gravity would hold her to the earth when she walked down the sidewalk.
Until that night in the garage. pg. 289


raidergirl3 said...

Oh, yes, King is the best. I am in the middle of reading this right! now! I've finished 1922, and agree, it's very graphic. Ugh, the rats, but very tell-tale heart, don't you think? My plan is to read a story after each book I finish this month. A little King snack as it were. I find his stories are so involving, I need a little break after each one. or a reward for reading other authors. Something like that.
It's so cool when someone else is reading the same book at practically the same time.

Lori L said...

You're right Raidergirl - 1922 is very tell-tale heart. I guess the consequences of your actions can send you on the road to madness. I'll be anxious to read what you think about the rest of the stories!

I should consider your reward system with 2 other early King short story collections I picked up. (I'm late to developing an appreciation for his short stories and found two early collections at the local used book store.)