If you didn’t know by now, I am a huge Stephen King fan, so naturally I was stoked when Full Dark, No Stars came out. Yeah, I’m a little late in writing the review (about three weeks late) but this has been a crazy month for me.
The book is spectacular; a real return to the roots. Instead of a full length novel, King combines four individual novellas into one book. For those of you who have read Different Seasons or Four Past Midnight; this is the same deal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: King is a master of horror no doubt, but where he truly shines is when he takes a step back from the supernatural. Older works like The Body (Stand by Me for you movie buffs out there), Apt Pupil, or Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption are phenomenal pieces of literature; and King keeps them all grounded in reality (or as close to reality as fiction gets).
Full Dark, No Stars continues this trend with some of the most entertaining King pieces I’ve ever read. Now, as a disclaimer, one of the stories involves a literal deal with the Devil, so yeah, they’re not all free from the supernatural. Sue me. Anyway, the book is tied together by a couple of strings that wind their way through each story; the idea of the stranger inside and the concept of retribution. What’s most entertaining is that each story has a different spin on the theme. With that being said, here’s my take on all four.
The book starts off with 1922; a confession written by an old farmer who not only murdered his wife, but enlisted his young son’s help. This one is the longest of the four; and combines a handful of genres seamlessly.
First off, it’s a period piece; and I do love the way King is able to capture the feel of decades long gone by. Second, it’s a crime novel; murder and cover ups and investigations are always good fun in a story. Third, it’s a heist story. Without spoiling too much about it I will say you get some good bank robbery pieces in it, as well as thieves on the lam. It’s also a love story in several different ways. Of course it’s a horror story. I’ll give you one word about that aspect: rats. Hell, technically it can also be called an epistolary piece as well since the whole thing is supposedly a letter the main character is writing, and it closes with a fictitious newspaper article.
1922 felt like an entire novel rather than the start to a collection, and it would surprise me if the story never sees the silver screen. It was not my favorite of the four, but it was well written, disturbing and captivating.
The next story up is Big Driver. This one starts off so casually, with an author doing a guest speaking to a bunch of her fans. The author in question writes mystery tales about a group of old ladies who solve crimes; pretty bland stuff, I know. From there it contorts into a brutal tale of kidnapping, rape and revenge. King shows off his mastery of the dark side of human nature as he depicts Tess being devoured by a dark and murderous rage. The story hits its creepy pinnacle when Tess begins having conversations with inanimate objects as she stalks her tormentor. It reminded me of The Tell-Tale Heart; that slow descent into madness coupled with the insistence on sanity.
This one is another longer tale, but it flies by pretty quickly. The ending was a little tired and predictable for me, but certainly not bad. All in all though, this was my least favorite of the four.
The third story is Fair Extension; a Faustian tale that is the shortest of the four and simply brilliant. The basis of the tale is pretty standard stuff; Dave Streeter, a man dying of cancer, makes a deal with the devil in order to prolong his life. However, someone else will need to take on the misfortunes; someone that Dave hates. Now this may seem like a pretty good bargain. After all, who wouldn’t wish misfortune on someone they hate? What’s twisted in this story is that Dave picks his best friend, Tom Goodhugh.
The story then follows Dave’s “miraculous” recovery, and the downward spiral that claims Tom and everything meaningful in his life. The terrible things that happen to Tom are upsetting indeed, but perhaps the most chilling is Dave’s utter lack of guilt or remorse. This story is the literary equivalent of a punch to the gut; fast and effective.
The final story in the collection is my favorite of the four and is titled A Good Marriage. The premise is perfect in its simplicity; a woman knocks over a box in the garage and from there discovers that her husband is hiding a horrifying secret. Again, I hate to spoil anything so if you want to know what the secret is, then go pick up the book.
The story explores the dark depths that a person can hide inside of them; the idea that we may not actually know the people who are closest to us. The story is loosely based on actual events, which in and of itself is pretty damn terrifying, and King takes these concepts and runs with them. The story is reminiscent of Psycho, built up on a foundation of psychological suspense and paranoia, and when the curtain is pulled back the view is nothing short of demonic.
Full Dark, No Stars more than lives up to expectations; with only a few clichés and slips in the narratives. Any die-hard King fan has most likely read it by now; but if you’re still on the fence about the man’s work, or just not a huge fan of supernatural horror, this is an excellent book for you.
For those of you wondering, the pictures are from the special edition of Full Dark, No Stars that was printed up by Cemetery Dance.