“From the start . . . I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive. It gets in your face. Sometimes it shouts in your face. I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal.” (Full Dark, No Stars. p.365).
There are some who avoid works by Stephen King. Literary elitists have shown distain towards King for years, dismissing his writing as story-telling for the masses. This review isn’t about the literary merits of King’s works, or his overwhelming success, or even about the monumental effect King’s life-long dedication to writing has had on the horror genre. This is a brief review and discussion of two of four novellas found in Full Dark, No Stars, released in 2010.
Short stories and novellas are not a new format for King. King has published very successful short stories and multiple novellas over his 35-year-long career. He has clearly succeeded yet again, with Full Dark, No Stars.
Full Dark contains a common theme within each novella, a theme exploring the darker side of the human psyche, retribution, revenge, and a sense of twisted justice. Redemption is not a theme, but revengeful retribution is revealed in each. Even evil has the opportunity towards a twisted kind of justice—a black and damaging kind of justice, but justice nonetheless.
The first novella, 1922, is set in Depression era Nebraska. The story involves a barely working family farm, constant work, brutally harsh, and unrelenting. The wife and mother, Arlette, is a bitter and manipulative character who harps without end her wish to sell the 100-acre farm that she inherited from her father. Arlette’s dream is to leave the country life and move to the progressive city of Omaha.
The husband, Wilfred “Wilf,” dominated and hen-pecked, is a browbeaten, beleaguered husband whose only desire is to stay on the land. Wilf tells Henry, their only child, of his mother’s, Arlette’s, plan. Wilf then convinces Henry to help him murder his mother. Wilf intones that if Henry does not help with this, they will be forced to leave the farm, and Henry will never see his girlfriend, who lives close by, ever again. Henry, a meek and obedient boy, resists but finally agrees to help murder his mother.
When Arlette’s demands to sell increase, Wilf and Henry determine they must go through with the murder. It is a clumsy and brutal murder; both father and son are deeply shaken afterwards. Arlette’s murder acts as a horrific prelude to a story which evolves into a twisted tale of backwoods justice and supernatural interference.
The vicious murder results in the destruction of both father and son. The darker psyche of Wilf bobs and weaves throughout the tale, and in the end, destruction follows.
(Spoiler: If you have a phobia against rats, you may not want to read this dark tale).
A GOOD MARRIAGE: A Good Marriage is both thought provoking and highly believable. The main character is a stay-at-home wife, Darcy, whose children have gone to college and left home to start their lives. Darcy has been married to the same man, Bob Anderson, for over 25 years. She believes she is living the American dream, or a semblance of it – not perfect, but predictable, comfortable. It is by sheer accident that she trips over a misaligned carton residing in the garage. Darcy opens the carton and realizes that the man that she believes she knows as well as herself, not only has a double life, but is a serial killer.
Once Darcy confirms her suspicions, she realizes that there has not been a killing for 16 years. She attempts to come to grips with what she knows for certain. Her husband, Bob, intuits that she knows about his secret life when he realizes that the garage carton has been moved. Bob confronts Darcy,
and manages to convince her that it is all up to her what happens next; his life and their life together, as well as their children’s, hang on her decision. Bob assures her that as long as she keeps quiet, he will suppress his killing urges; he promises her won’t kill again, but she must make her decision to stay and keep their secret.
Bob explains to Darcy the reason he took a break from killing was because of her, that being with her has allowed him to suppress and ignore his urge to kill. But if she breaks her word, the killing will start up again, and Darcy will suffer the consequences, will be ostracized by the very people she believes to be her friends.
Bob and Darcy’s lives resume; he goes back to work, Darcy takes up her house-wifely duties, and they ignore their shared secret and there are no killings. But Darcy, never feels at ease; she is ashamed and feels responsible.
After years of silence, Darcy stages an accident and succeeds in killing Bob. After an evening celebration with family and friends, Darcy manages to push Bob down a flight of stairs, and he falls to his death. Although Darcy is cleared of any foul play, she knows someone will come knocking on the door sooner or later. And the day does come, and that someone comes knocking, but it isn’t who she expects.
Retribution comes in the end, along with a good dose of twisted justice, but you have to read the book to find out.
You will enjoy this collection. Both 1922 and A Good Marriage have been made into movies. The book will make you think, and may even surprise you.
After all, no one knows what they might do if pushed to the absolute edge.
From the Afterword: “I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even. But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in trying to do the right thing…and that when we fail to do that, or willfully turn away from the challenge, hell follows.” (Stephen King).
“Stephen King has proven himself to be one of the finest chroniclers of the dark side of the human psyche over the 35 years of his successful career. While literary snobs sometimes cock a snoot at his mainstream appeal, there is no doubt that on his day he can spin as compelling a yarn as anyone” . . . These tense tales delve into the dark heart of a knitting society and a serial killer’s last stand.” Doug Johnstone. Independent. November 14, 2010.
King, Stephen. FULL DARK, NO STARS. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Kirkus Review. “Deals with the darkest recesses of the human soul. . .” Nov. 10, 2010.
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Book Photo: Courtesy of Amazon
A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading, writing, and animal advocacy. She fosters and rescues both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.