11 December 2010

Books: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (2010)

There is some irony, I think, that as I finished Full Dark, No Stars I heard about the suicide of Mark Madoff, the son of Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff. More on this at end.
The four novellas that are part of this book are brimmed with “what people might do, and how they might behave, under dire circumstances” as King wrote in his Afterword.

The first entry (and the longest), 1922, is a historical tale about a man who kills his wife and hides her in a well. As Wilfred James writes in 1930 about what he did eight years earlier, we see a man who thought he could get away with something, unaware of the collateral damage he would eventually cause. And as guilt and mere coincidence begin to eat at him, he tries even harder to prevent the anyone from finding out what he did. And it is a King story, and we know that his dead never stay dead.

Big Driver tells is a story about a semi-successful crime novelist who is lured to a town for a literary event. Later, as she takes the short cut recommended to her, Tess encounters a rapist and a murderer. While she survives, she realizes that she cannot tell people what happened (for various reasons) and so she plots revenge. But to do what she feels needed, she’ll need to step down and become close to what the rapist is, and the person who sent her there to be raped. But justice can be a harsh mistress, and Tess wonders if becoming a vigilant is what her destiny was about.

Fair Extension is a sort of Twilight Zone-ish tale on the old standby of “beware of what you wish for.” Dave Streeter has cancer, and his encounter with a mysterious man who claims he can extend his life (but not cure him), sets in motion events that change the fabric of his life and his best friends one as well.

Finally, A Good Marriage is about a wife who accidentally discovers the man she’s been married to for the last 27 years is a serial killer known Beadie. Like Tess, Darcy is confronted with more social issues than justice -in the court of 24 hour news channels and folks who live and die by them - she thinks that people will have to assume she knew her husband was a killer, if only because she was married to him for so long. Her resolution is shocking, but sometimes you got to do what you got to do.

King said these were “harsh” tales, and ones difficult to write. But while he gets criticism for being prolific and (at times) formulaic, he has become a better writer over the years. I’ve been reading him for 30 years, and his return to more darkness is as welcome as last years huge novel Under the Dome. He has grown as a writer, and his tales about “what people might do, and how they might behave, under dire circumstances” reverberates more everyday.

Such as with Mark Madoff. Two years to the day he and his brother turned his father in, obviously convinced that the world will never accept that he knew nothing of his fathers schemes, the oldest Madoff child decided he could do nothing more. His act, while tragic, was one of someone caught in the middle of a nightmare he could not get out of. The irony is, maybe, while money makes the world go around, it never comes without a price. It can cover the bad times, it can give you things, but the collateral damage it can sometimes cause, forces people to make choices that are a dire, and in Mark Madoff's case, permanent.

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