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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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February 21, 2011
Rating: 8.5

When people believe in well-natured folk and good Samaritans, they expect the same virtues in their neighbors that they see within themselves. At least the virtues they would hope to see, anyway. In his new novella, Stephen King questions mankind's ability to trust others. Throughout Full Dark, No Stars, King intends for his "constant readers" to uncomfortably sit in on the minds of his killers and their victims, delving into co-ed relationships and the dark energy that only nightmares and bad situations are made of.

In the first story, "1922," Wilfred James is a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures. His wife, Arlette, threatens their way of life when she insists they sell their 100 acre farm. James turns his son Henry against his wife, and soon after, a stranger emerges--the Conniving Man--who sets into motion a tragic chain of events. "1922" is the longest story of the four and the most graphic, probably the reason it's my favorite in the collection.

"Big Driver," the second tale, introduces Tess, a mystery writer who lives on her own and speaks at book club engagements. When Tess takes a recommended shortcut home, the kindness of one stranger brutally evolves into premeditated violence. The shortest story, and my least favorite in the collection, "Fair Extension," follows one man's pursuit of retribution. Dave Streeter, a sickly man battling cancer, blames his misfortune and jealousy on his childhood best friend, Tom Goodhugh. Ever since Streeter was a boy, Tom took credit for his accomplishments, even stole his college sweetheart. Streeter's fortune sways when he meets a man on the Harris Avenue Extension who promises to reverse Streeter's illness and shortcomings.

The last story, "A Good Marriage," comes as a close second to "1922" and challenges how well one truly knows their partner or spouse. Darcy Anderson thinks she knows her husband, Bob. They have a good marriage, respectable careers, and reputable affection for one another. For 27 years, Darcy believes she had a solid marriage until she makes a startling discovery in the garage.

In spite of King's best efforts to maintain a haunting picturesque theme throughout, Full Dark, No Stars becomes sprinkled with lengthy and, at times, inelegant storytelling. What I saw as careful foreshadowing may be interpreted by others as careless predictability. There are times where King's perfect story resolution becomes cumbersome, making the plot hard to follow and less than plausible. No literary killjoy myself, I felt King allows readers to rummage around freely, leaving the dark vaults of their minds open. "I'm much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations," King writes in the "Afterword". "I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers." Most authors intend the same, but Full Dark, No Stars actually accomplishes this goal.

SEE ALSO: www.stephenking.com
SEE ALSO: www.simonandschuster.com

--
Bridget Doyle
A resident of New Jersey who covers literature for LAS, Bridget Doyle has known Dan Weiss since high school.

See other articles by Bridget Doyle.

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