I received this book a while back for Christmas, but had put off reading it until recently. I think I got distracted by my urban fantasy phase, but then I realized that despite being labelled as a horror writer, most of Stephen King’s stories can be described as urban fantasies, except instead of Narnia and Wizard School, you deal with things crawling out of hell.
Published in 2010, Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of three long-form stories stories plus one short one. Similar to King’s other four-story collection, Different Seasons (which was an excellent read), the stories here are independent of one another. I can tell you now that I gobbled up this book in a week, and it was a fantastic journey that was more suspenseful than it was terrifying (except maybe the first story). This review will separated into four main parts, allowing for a brief critique of each story.
“1922” is a story about a farmer who murders his wife and hides the body in a well.
For a lot of readers, including myself, this was the best story out of the four. It is indeed the scariest of the stories, not because of some bogeyman or thing hiding in the closet, but because we get the first person perspective of a man with a guilty conscience. Few of us have ever actually committed murder, but this story is as good as it gets for knowing what it’s like to do it, provided you’re not a psychopath.
What makes this story so believable is the narrator’s admission that he has done something wrong, and since we get it from him directly, we also understand why he felt he had no other choice. Sympathetic to his voice, we become distraught when his guilt catches up with him, and all throughout the story things begin to happen which seem like the imaginary manifestations of a guilty mind, until these strange occurrences ramp up in severity leading up to the perfect ending, where it’s actually unclear whether it was all in our protagonist’s head, or something more real and disturbing.
An excellent story for its visceral narrative.
A revenge story of a woman who is raped and left for dead.
“Big Driver” hits you emotionally precisely because there’s no ghost or ghoulies involved. It’s a story of just how depraved some people are in the real world. This short story doesn’t champion the protagonist as some hero vigilante; her revenge is cold and calculated, and the appeal of this story is it’s realism. How would one go about murdering someone in a small town? “Big Driver” shows you some of it, through the perspective of a woman who has been pushed over the edge and back again.
This story is a great example of Stephen King’s ability to tell it like it is. There are no “heroes” when it comes to crime and retribution, but neither is the female hero in our story a weak and helpless creature. This is a good story for how down-to-earth it treats its horrible plot point.
A man with a tumor finds a way to extend his life.
“Fair Extension” is a deal-with-the-devil story, and the price paid may be higher than just a soul. This is the shortest story out of the four, and the one that is probably the most cynical. While this type of story has been told before, King does a great job pinpointing what it really means to give up one’s soul. It’s a betrayal of your humanity, an abandonment of decency and righteousness, and a forfeiting of your right to say “I am human.” It may sound lame when I say it outright, but if you’ve read the story you’ll know what I mean.
The bad guy “wins” in the plot, but they most definitely lose in the bigger picture. This is indeed a moral story, but it’s far from being in your face. The repercussions are never realized for the main character, but we as the reader witness first hand his fall from grace.
A Good Marriage
A housewife stumbles upon her husband’s dark secret.
At the beginning of Stephen King’s writing career he wrote great stories whose protagonists were writers and young people. “Good Marriage” is a great story about a couple who have been married for a long time. This may sound strange, but the thing I like most about this story is how frank it is in describing a long and solid marriage. It’s far from being a naive picture of love and trust, nor is it an overly pessimistic portrayal of two grouchy old people. Again, King’s realistic take on life is refreshingly honest and far from boring.
Like “1922”, this story is notable for getting into the psychology of a person who finds themselves in a horrible situation. We only get her point of view, but she’s far from being an unreliable narrator. This story also relies on tension to keep the reader on edge, and while it is not as nerve-wracking as “1922”, it is good enough to seriously make the reader worry and fear for the protagonist.
King’s suspense-building and painfully realistic narrative comes together in four great page-turners. Half of the stories have a supernatural element to them, but each one endeavours to show the darker side of being human, succeeding not only in this category, but in general storytelling as well.
This book is highly recommended if you’re a long-time Stephen King fan, and even if you’re not. One may say this book is slice-of-life with a bitter aftertaste, but the title says it best. The stories do invoke the feeling of looking up into an empty black sky.
This has been a gamobo review.