Full Dark, No Stars: Something twisted is lurking

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStephen King book review Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

In Full Dark, No Stars, the latest short story collection from Stephen King, our heroes explore the boundaries between victim and predator, often exchanging roles as they navigate their way through the twisted passages of King’s mind. These characters are often out for no one but themselves, and they will use every resource — even burlap sacks and GPS — in their quest to get what they want.

Of the four stories, “Big Driver” stands out as Tess, a mystery novelist, is brutally raped and sets out for revenge. Tess fears that she will make headlines, becoming forever the writer that was raped, and she worries that people will see her pretty face and say she was asking for it. Just as she decides not to go public, Tess begins to take comfort in her pistol. And of course King knows exactly where to take a story from there.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFull Dark, No Stars offers everything that readers expect from a Stephen King story. There are references to Americana — the kind that King twists as his protagonists descend into madness. And King always offers a clear metaphor to explain simply how his murderers come to justify their actions. As Wilf says, we all have a “conniving man” inside of us, whispering. That may or may not be true for us, the readers, but it is true for the characters in these stories.

Perhaps most impressively, King has the ability to make America seem like an utterly disturbing place. Beneath its veneer of wholesome middle-class lifestyle, something twisted is lurking. Each of these protagonists comes to a point where they can see “over there on the turnpike, people who had never been raped or stuffed in pipes were going places.” Just like Darcy in “Good Marriage,” we think we know everything we need to know about the people around us. In Full Dark, No Stars, there is always something unthinkable. And it’s waiting.

These are dark stories, though King explains in his afterword that there’s a “world upstairs” as well. Stephen King has always had a talent for writing long novels and short stories. With Under The Dome, he showed he could still handle long novels. Full Dark, No Stars shows that King can still pack a lot of story into a novella.

Full Dark, No Stars — (2010) Publisher: ‘I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger…’ writes Wilfred Leland James in the early pages of the riveting confession that makes up ‘1922’, the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerising tales from Stephen King, linked by the theme of retribution. For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife Arlette proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness. In ‘Big Driver’, a cozy-mystery writer named Tess encounters the stranger is along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face to face with another stranger: the one inside herself. ‘Fair Extension’, the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil not only saves Harry Streeter from a fatal cancer but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment. When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It’s a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends ‘A Good Marriage’. Like DIFFERENT SEASONS and FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT, which generated such enduring hit films as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, FULL DARK, NO STARS proves Stephen King a master of the long story form.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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