The King of Horror hits a grand slam with Full Dark, No Stars
Stephen King has long been one of my favorite authors, and in “Full Dark No Stars,” I’m happy to say Steve, as he likes to be called, walloped one out of the park with the bases loaded. All four offerings were examples of some of his finest writing.
In “1922,” a man arouses his dark half to stop his wife from selling the family homestead, setting in motion a gruesome trail of murders and mayhem. Despite being the longest of the four stories, the dark journey into Wilfred James psyche is a page turner from start to finish. The landscape is littered with blood, gore, decomposing bodies, and scores of bloated rats that grab you with their sharp teeth and won’t let go.
In “Big Driver,” Tess comes face-to-face with an unexpected, take-no-prisoners stranger. Herself. Jail time will not quench her insatiable thirst for payback on the giant of the man who raped her and left her for dead in a culvert with several other decomposing, rat invested corpses.
In “Fair Extention,” a terminal cancer victim makes a deal with the devil to trade his bitter destiny with his dearest friend who he has resented all his life for being handed good fortune on the silver platter every annoying step of the way. This is the shortest long story of the four and depicts a twisted sense of humor on the part of the old hellion, which I found extremely entertaining as he wreaked havoc on his victims in many devilish and unforgiving ways.
In my favorite story, “A Good Marriage”, a 27-year-old love affair is ruined when the blissfully happy wife trips over a box in the garage and discovers her husband is someone she has never really known and not in a good way.
Each of the four offerings has a compelling plot and a satisfying ending, which I find rare in collections of this genre these days. I am grateful Steve chose not to substitute a clunker in this collection so he could save one of these pearls for a future book like so many other lesser writers today. For this reason, I think the $9.99 price for the book was worth it.
The theme running through all four stories is there is a stranger living inside all of us that even loved ones have never seen. Then one day something happens to expose the secret self that lies just below the surface. Sometimes that secret self is a hero that steps from his shell to thwart evil, and sometimes it is a monster capable of doing frightful things.
Speaking of monsters, the only ones in this book are the human kind. Vampires, werewolves, and the garden-variety creatures of legend do not lurk on these pages, but this is not at all a shortcoming. Steve knows very well that the horror of what your next door neighbor might do to you is more bone chilling than the hairy thing that simply rips you apart with swipe of his claw and it’s over. It’s so much more entertaining when the maniac plays with you ad infinitum with malice aforethought, savoring each insidious nuance of inflicting agony until your mind is mush and can no longer be ravaged by further torture.
There is no joy in these pages. Even on a bright summer day, the landscape here feels dark and foreboding as the protagonist in each story seeks refuge from the traps they have fallen victim to. If you are a poor soul who is or has recently contemplated suicide, “Full dark and no stars” is not for you.
Steve is still King, and when he’s good, there’s no one better.