Stephen King provides a warning about his newest collection of four novellas, Full Dark, No stars. Of course, that warning doesn’t come until the end of the book, so if you go into this collection without reading the thing backwards, you may be surprised. He warns you that the stories in this collection are dark. He ain’t kiddin’.
King has collected novellas into collections before. His first was called Different Seasons and it was a collection of four stories that are longer than a short story but too short to be considered novels. His first collection also did not, strictly speaking, fall into his normal genre of “horror.” However, that collection did spawn the movies Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption, so, they were pretty good stories nonetheless.
In that first collection he explained that novellas were a strange territory for an author. Since the stories are so long, most magazines that still publish fiction (a very rare breed these days, indeed) would not publish them. At the same time, they were too short for a publisher to want to pay the necessaries fees to publish and market them.
However, when you reach the level that King has and where everything you write is in demand by your readers, you can find a way to get your novellas read. He published a second collection of them several years after the first called Four Past Midnight. That only spawned one movie, but it starred Johnny Depp, so that’s saying something.
In this collection, King delves into some dark territory. He deals with the idea of retribution and he does so in a way that only King can. He does it with a ghost story, a classic revenge story, a deal-with-the-devil story, and a kind of down-home detective story. Those a ridiculously simplistic descriptions of the stories here, but they come about as close as you can get in a few words.
The first story is “1922” and it tells the tale of a man who decides the world would be better if he murdered his wife. Of course, if you think that a murdered person in a King story stays that way, then you haven’t read much Stephen King. How that murdered person gets revenge is where the horror really comes in. It is a story that sets a time and tone beautifully and then delves into obsession and madness in a way that will leave your spine cold.
The second story is “Big Driver” and it takes its premise right out of I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left. If you have seen those movies, you know where this one is going. A woman who writes mysteries takes a shortcut and ends up in a very bad place with a very, very bad man. She decides to take her revenge and this is where King manages to deviate from those two movies and find new ways to tell the tale that brings a sharp dose of reality.
“Fair Extension” is the shortest of the stories in this collection and is surprisingly funny. Now, funny in a King story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. His sense of humor is as twisted as much of his non-funny stories are. So, this take on the man making a deal with the devil may bring a smile to your face, but you will feel really, really bad about it later.
The final story is “A Good Marriage” and it takes a story that may seem familiar to you if you pay attention to crime stories in the news. It tells the tale of a simple woman who seems to have a perfect life with a good man, until the day she stumbles over a box in the garage while her husband is out of town. What she finds turns her world upside down and forces her to not only face darkness within the man she loves, but within herself.
All of the tales are told in the standard Stephen King style. They have very real, very ordinary characters who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Although, at times, there are some supernatural elements involved, the characters react in a way that seems all-too real. That is what is amazing about King’s work, is that you feel that these characters are behaving in a way you can understand and relate to. That’s what makes his characters so memorable and his stories so powerful.
King is a man who has been experiencing a bit of resurgence on his writing in the last few years. There was a time when he seemed to be phoning it in. Then he got hit by a man driving a van and nearly died and that has made him a man on a mission. He found parts of his own imagination that hadn’t been tapped before, and his characters and stories returned to the way they were early in his career. He is, after all, the master.
On an interesting note, this is the first Stephen King book I have read that I did not go out and buy in hardcover. I got an eReader for Christmas in 2009 and I downloaded this book. I wondered if I would feel different. I am glad to say, that I did not. I think that eReaders are a great thing and can only enhance the reading experience. I have not missed not having the hardcover version of this book on my shelves filled with hardcover Stephen King books. I still enjoyed the stories and I have a copy saved on my hard drive and on my reader.
So, however you decide to read the latest work from Stephen King, be prepared for that old familiar feeling. That feeling that there might be things hiding in the shadows around your apartment or home. That those things might not be friendly and that they might have teeth. Then be prepared to stay up too late reading some great tales that will chill you to the bone.