Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King – review

For whatever reason I think the short form is the area where King has most excelled at. Even with his novels, I think I appreciate his shorter works (especially The Gunslinger) over his larger works. His collections of novellas have spawned a small legion of wonderful films from Stand by Me to Shawshank Redemption, Secret Window, Secret Garden to Apt Pupil, and his best noevl to movie translations have arguably been his shorter works (Misery, The Green mile, The Shining). The collection of four novellas Full Dark, No Stars falls into the same vein. Reading the four stories included in the volume and all of them are readily filmable, though this is something I’m sure some would hold against him.

It’s too easy to say a book should be a book, and that books have come to rely too heavily on capturing the film aesthetic. While I think there is a bit of truth to this, I don’t think it applies to King. Being filmable doesn’t detract from the impact of the stories or how well they function on the page. I think Russell Banks is very filmable as well, but it doesn’t make me think any less of novels like Affliction or The Sweet Hereafter. With King,I think it’s more a criticism that he sells a lot of books, that popular doesn’t equal good. I’m not the biggest King fan, but I think he does exceptionally well at capturing his stock and trade, the darker side of human nature.

With Full Dark, it leads with “1922” and it is easily the strongest story of the collection. A farmer recruits his son to kill their wife/mother and both are driven to horrible ends from the results of this act. Typical of King, you are never quite sure how much is real and how much of what transpires is delusion on behalf of the characters, striking a similar chord to his novel Gerald’s Game. Is the dog real in Gerald’s Game? Are the rats real in “1922?” In both cases, you assume so, and you’re never really sure whether to believe otherwise at the end. in any case, the dog and the rats were certainly real to the characters at the time.

The second story is a revenge story. Within “Big Driver,” King makes reference to the Jodie Foster movie The Brave One and it is damn apt comparison for this story. It’s a good read, quick, and the scope of evil it nudges towards at the end, the sheer scope of the act of rape, is the most unsettling part of the story.

“Fair Extension” is the arguable home for the most unsympathetic narrator in Stephen King’s body of work. I’m not sure I have ever seen a King story where the main character so quickly reveals how monstrous he is, only to have him continue to be monstrous and to be rewarded for it. This is really the sole reason for it being a stand out piece in this collection, maybe my favorite work.  The small, early reference to the meagerness of human souls to the ugly “transaction without mercy” backbone behind the story, it is unsettling. Considering the profession of the narrator (works at a bank) and the timing of the collection, I would have to wonder if it is in some way tied in to a greater anger at the financial crisis, but I don’t know if King ever spoke to that or if it is in any way true. Still, the ruthless “I want mine, and yours too” feeling of the story is difficult to ignore.

The collection wraps with a solid enough short story of a woman who discovers her husband’s dirty little secret. To be honest, that part of the story didn’t really hook me and I was pretty ambivalent to the story until the old detective shows up at the end to question woman about her recently deceased husband. there was something about the aged, retiring detective that screamed Kinderman from Blatty’s classic The Exorcist.  in no way do the two detectives appear to be literally linked, but there was something to King’s detective that seemed entirely in line with Blatty’s, and either way I can only picture Lee Cobb as either of them.

Barnes and Noble

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