December 3, 2012

Book: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:15 am

imagesMy God, what a collection! This is a collection of stories by that master storyteller, Stephen King. When you have read enough books of any author, you think you get a sense of the author’s style and even plot lines but this one keeps serving surprises all the time, in a way. Yes the storytelling is all there, as is the suspense that he ratchets up slowly until breaking point, but the angles are new and some stories have a power of unexpected surprise ending even after all this time (as in Fair Extensions in this collection. We will discuss this shortly.)

We have already reviewed many other novels of Stephen King already (see for example, the review of Leisey’s Story or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon ).

On to this book: This is a collection of four stories. I hesitate to call them short stories because the first one takes up almost half the book and is a novella rather than a short story. The others are smaller. But without exception, all of them are exceptionally good, which makes this book a totally fun read from end to end, in my view.

Take the first story, 1922, for instance. As I have said, this is the longest. This deals with Wilfred Leland James and his wife Arlette. They live in the country with the land bequeathed to the wife with their son Henry. It is anything but a quiet life. Arlette hates the form, and wants to move to the city, selling the land but for Wilfred, who is the narrator, it is like cutting off his hand. Henry is sweet on Shannon Cotterie. Harlan, the father of Shannon, allows that as a harmless puppy love until Shannon finds a man more suited to her stature in life.
Arlette makes life miserable to both her husband and her son, by nagging, making lewd remarks to her son about Shannon and when she is drunk, which is often, she is very near intolerable.
When she gives an ultimatum to Wilfred and Henry, Wilfred realizes that the only way out of this impasse is to kill her; he hatches a brilliant plan to kill her and to hide the body – and claim that she just ran away – she has done so before. The plan goes horribly wrong, and the story is pretty gruesome and horrifying to read. The murder first does not go according to plan and a reluctant Henry is pulled into it. Then the corpse is thrown into an old well and the body does not hide well – there are some hideous descriptions of how it shows up inside the well. Then there are the sinister events with the rats…
In the meanwhile the relationship with Henry sours and Henry starts to go bad from the good, pure hearted, soft, son that he was. When Wilfred finds out that Shannon has been made pregnant by Henry, all hell breaks loose.
The story goes from tension to tension, with Arlette, that foul mouthed, rude, uncouth woman in life, pursues her husband from beyond the grave. (No, this is not a ghost story). A great read.

The second story, The Big Driver, is about Tessa, a moderately famous author, who is called to be the guest speaker in the Books and Brown Baggers Club’s knitting society. Ramona Norville, the organizer suggests a shortcut back on the way home and there, she is forced to stop by obstacles in her path and a large man comes in rapes her and stangles her. She is left for dead, and wakes up near other corpses stuffed in a pipe. She manages to escape and is traumatized. Slowly, she realizes that she has to do something because the killer has killed before, as evidenced by the other bodies, and will do so again unless stopped. She decides to call the police and immediately changes her mind and decides to stop him in her own way.
She researches and finds that the Big Driver is Al Stretchlke of Hawkline Trucking Company.
The story is not just a simple one of revenge, but also one of some twists and turns that will make you gasp. Very good story.

The third story, Fair Extensions, is a very different story from him. It tells the life of David Streeter, who is friends with Tom Goodhugh. Their lives can be hardly more different. Tom is a man in rude health, a sportsman in university and now married to Norma Witten. They have two kids and seemingly everything in life. Tom is an executive, his two children are destined for greatness and are doing well in school.
David was dating Norma when she was swept off her feet by Tom, and ends up marrying her. David is bitter but then meets Janet and is very happy. He also has a son, Justin, doing OK in college and a daughter. David is toiling in a cubicle all day long and then discovers he has cancer and is in chemo. One day, when he is driving through a deserted road, he meets a salesman, George Elvid, (yes, the anagram is obvious) and makes a deal with him. He will have good things happen in his life, just for the asking, but on two conditions. He should choose someone who must have the bad stuff happen to them and also, like the ancient tithe, 10% of his earnings, no matter how high, must be given to charity. He agrees and his life is transferred. Until he is asked in the same meeting, he does not even know that he is going to name his buddy Tom as the person who should bear the brunt of the bad things to happen.
The story is told very well, and ends in a surprising way (at least for me).
A Good Marriage is the last story in the collection. It is about a wife, Darcy Anderson, who is in love with Bob Anderson, a salesman who is funny, gentle and lovable. Her two grown kids have moved out and are living a happy life. One day, when cleaning the house, she stumbles into a box, and realizes that her fun loving, gentle husband is Beadie, the serial killer that the police are trying to catch! Her world comes crashing down. Can she live with the fact? Can she expose him? What will happen to her kids when this is known? Her struggle and the escalating tension when her husband discovers that she knows his secret are extremely well told. The end is satisfying, and the elderly detective who comes to investigate is also very endearing.

All in all, one of the best collection of short stories from the author. Deserves a 9/10

— Krishna


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