Thursday, January 26, 2012

Full Dark, No Stars

I have never been bashful about expressing my disdain for about 80% of the authors who dominate the big bestseller lists, having at times been particularly hard on the James Patterson factory and the novels of one Mr. Dan Brown.  That has led several people to question my general fondness for the books of Stephen King, a writer whose work they characterize as a guilty pleasure of my own.  Well, I have been a fan of King’s work ever since the Fourth of July holiday of 1980 that I spent reading the first book of his I had ever heard of: The Shining.  I went on to spend much of the rest of that month catching up on his earlier books.

Over the years, my opinion of Stephen King’s writing has changed somewhat.  Where once I was most eager to get my hands on his latest novel, these days it is his new short stories and novellas that I most look forward to reading.  I have come to believe that the novella is really King’s forte and not, despite the fact that he has written some very successful ones, the novel.  Full Dark, No Stars makes me even more certain of that.

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of over five hundred pages encompassing three novellas and one short story.  One or two of the stories being told remind me, for the first time in a while, of two of King’s best (and best known) novellas: Shawshank Redemption and The Body.  No so coincidentally, this pair also led to two of the best received movies ever produced from King’s work (The Body was re-titled Stand by Me for its movie version). 

“1922,” a grim confession by Wilf James to the bloody murder of his wife that he convinced his teenage son to help him accomplish and cover-up, opens the book.  The youngster, deeply in love with the girl from the next farm, is terrified that he might be uprooted and moved to the city as his mother is insisting upon.  Wilf plays on his son’s emotions to gain his trust but starts a chain of events that will ultimately leave him regretting much more than his wife’s murder.  The outstanding character development and feel for the period King invokes in this one make it, I think, the overall strongest story in the collection. 

“Big Driver” is a revenge story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  When Tess, author of a successful series of bloodless, cozy mysteries is brutally raped, beaten, and left for dead by what she discovers is a serial killer, she must decide what to do next.  Using her mystery writing skills (bloodless as they have been up to now), Tess comes up with a plan she hopes will cover all the bases – and then, things get complicated.

Next up, is the book’s lone short story (about 45 pages), “Fair Extension.”  Perhaps the darkest story of the lot, this one will make most readers wonder what they would do given the same circumstances and choices.  Mr. Elvid offers Dave, a terminal cancer sufferer who is fast running out of time, the chance to rid himself of his cancer and live a healthy life for another 20 years.  The catch?  Dave must choose someone to take on the burden of his ill health and other bad luck – can he do it?  Will he?

The last story, “A Good Marriage,” visits what might happen if a woman happily married for almost 30 years were to discover that her husband has been hiding a horrible secret from her the entire time.  By the end of the story, Darcy Anderson, facing just such a predicament, learns as much about herself as she learns about her husband – and the last few pages of this one are the best section of the whole book.

Whether you call them long stories or novellas, you will not easily forget the four tales in Full Dark, No Stars.

Visit this Scribner link for a whole lot more about Full Dark, No Stars.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Nice to meet someone else with the same opinion of Dan Brown and James Patterson.

    But Stephen King...just never did take a 'shining' to his work. You've almost convinced me to give this collection a try, though.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. You might want to start on "Shawshank" or "The Body," Debbie because they show a side of King's writing that few people suspect is there. His horror novels stopped thrilling me years ago, but I do like his real world stuff - or a mixture of reality and just a touch of the supernatural.

  3. My son bought FDNS the other day when we went to Seoul. When he went back to Andong, where he lives, I kept eyeing the book and hoping he'd forget to pack it along. No such luck. Oh well, he says I can borrow it from him.

  4. I think he's a writer of ideas. My that I mean the central point to each individual work is an idea. Detractor would probably call it a gimmick. Take, for example, Misery. What if a fan took a writer prisoner? That's the idea. It's often the case that an idea story works best when the reader doesn't have that much of a chance to look too closely at it. Under The Dome, which I enjoyed, is a good example of having too much time to look at the idea. Had it been a novella, it would have ended long before we all realized how ridiculous it was.

  5. I agree with you on SK and the novella being his forte. Although I read and liked "11/22/63" recently, "Skeleton Crew" remains my favorite SK book. I still think of "The Mist" every time we have a foggy day, and can't drive past a cemetery without thinking of the rats from "Nona". :)Those stories from FDNS sound great. I will have to pick this up.

  6. Are there any scenes in these stories like the one in "Gerald's Game?" (The handcuff removal scene.) I have been scared to read a King book since I read that scene almost 20 years ago because it was so stomach turning.

  7. Grab it, Susan, when you get the chance. I think you'll enjoy it.

  8. That's it precisely, James. I think that King gets way too carried away with his novels. The result is that they become noticeably padded and repetitious. That overkill and bloat tends to make them boring after a while, distracting from the great premise he might have originally had for the novel. Less is more, in his case.

  9. Pam, I haven't tried the new King novel yet. I picked it up a couple of times but it seemed to be another case of too much. I'll probably wait until the list at the library shortens before I take a hard look at reading it. I have, though, heard good things about it.

  10. Actually, there are a couple of similar scenes in these stories...but the escape is much easier. There are scenes inside an abandoned well and a drainage culvert that will be hard to forget, for sure.