Monday, June 6, 2011

Full Dark No Stars by Stephen King

Four stories by Stephen King, each borders between novella and short story. 

“She made a gurgling noise-it sounded like someone choking on thick gravy-and kept coming, real enough to cast a shadow.  And I could smell her decaying flesh, this woman who had sometimes put her tongue in my mouth during the throes of her passion.”
It is in my mind impossible to review a Steven King work without acknowledging the man’s influence.  Nearly every American can identify Mr. King.  It is almost impossible to have missed all of Mr. King’s influence.  Not confined purely to genre fare, works such as, Stand By Me, The Green Mile,  and  The Shawsank Redemption have been transformed into classic American films. 
Personally I have a mixed reaction to Mr. King.  The Stand is an epic work of horror fiction, with a brilliant plot and rich cast of characters.  The structure and presentation of the novel is nearly flawless.  The TV movie however is bastardized crap to me.  I say this being fully aware of Mr. King’s influence in the production.  The Mist is an amazing and overlooked film and the movie Dream Catcher is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen.  Jason Lee in this film shits out an Alien that looks like a fecal log, and then proceeds to wrestle with it.
Back to Mr. King’s written work.   I could not bring myself to finish Desperation or the first Dark Tower novel, despite its strong beginning.  Cell is a criminally under read and a terrific zombie novel.  Despite my dislike for some of his work, King’s influence deserves respect at the absolute least. 
Full Dark No Stars is a near perfect title.  This is a collection of dark tales.  Each story contains many common horror trappings, but never feels clich├ęd.  King either explores a new dynamic in each tale or perfectly encapsulates the elements of the story to create a strong genre offering.
In “1922,” The man kills his wife and is driven mad with grief/guilt setup adds an additional element into the mix, the son.  King explores the relationship of a father and fourteen year boy who kill their wife/mother.  The paternal support offered to the boy post murder is where the sense of terror derives from.  King weaves an intricate series of events, post murder rather than a slow build up to a killing that the audience knows is coming.  While running a little long it is still a strong entry.
If “Big Driver” were a film it would surely be a 1970’s rape and revenge picture.  In this story Tess a successful author is raped and left for dead in a drainage ditch full of corpses.  The story’s strength lies with Tess’ transformation.  The first person narrative fits perfectly with Tess’ altering perceptions.  The story is as much a character study as it is a rape and revenge epic.  This is the strongest story in the collation, with a flawless flow and length.
“Fair Extension,”  takes the sold my soul set up in new directions.  This is a short sweet tale that plays with the reader’s preconceived notions.  The more familiar you are with this set-up the more you will get out of this story. 
The collection finishes off with, “A Good Marriage.”  After twenty five years of marriage Darcy Anderson becomes aware that her husband is a serial killer.  This set up had me rolling my eyes at and briefly lost me.  I was wrong to be so dismissive.  While the flow feels rough, as do a few transitional places the story and events are solid with a couple genuine surprises.  The main strength of the tale, like with ‘Big Driver”  lies in the character of Darcy.  She is believably written despite the outrageousness of the situation. 

In the End;
Stephen King has given his readers four solid stories.  The tone is dark, the subject matter brutal.  It is an offering no horror fan should brush aside.  After decades King is still capable of crafting solid horror tales.  While not groundbreaking it is rare to find an anthology without any filler.