Stephen King continues to horrify with ‘Full Dark, No Stars,’ a compilation of stories

Adrienne Savoldi

Stephen King, the “Master of Horror,” has earned acclamation as one of the best horror-story writers of the day.

Well, if the fact that I cringed multiple times while reading his latest book, “Full Dark, No Stars” is any indication of this accomplishment, then congratulations, Mr. King, on another publication.

The book is broken into four novellas, each telling a different person’s story.

The first, “1922,” is about a man, Wilfred Leland James, who doesn’t want to move away from the farm he’s given his life to. His wife, Arlette, however, wants to uproot the family to Omaha, Nebraska. After coercing his 14-year-old son Henry into helping him murder Arlette, everything goes wrong. They bury Arlette in the well by their house, but then the rats come.

“‘This night will never end,’ says James. ‘And that was right. In all the important ways, it never has.’” James and Henry come to see the rats as Arlette’s messengers, as they never seem to go away.

Unique is the word I would use to describe this story. I liked the usage of the rats as Arlette’s minions and the twists and turns King throws into the story. I thought some were unnecessary, but it does a good job of showing how Arlette is still controlling the men in her life, even in death.

“Big Driver,” the second story, may be a little harder to stomach. A woman is thirsting for revenge against the man who raped and left her in a pipe, thinking she was dead. Tess is a mystery writer, who, after a speaking engagement at a library, falls victim to a truck driver’s lusts. Tess, with the assistance of her cat Fritzy and her GPS, comes to the conclusion that rather than going to the police, a different plan is necessary.

While I wasn’t sure if I agreed with Tess – I spent much time inwardly yelling at her – the thought process behind her actions was understandable. King’s depth in creating Tess’s emotions and feelings was incredible.

My least favorite story was “Fair Extension,” the shortest novella in the book. The main problem with this story was that it made no sense. Dave Streeter, the protagonist, is dying from cancer, and he meets a man on the side of the road who promises a 15-year life extension in exchange for 15 percent of Streeter’s income. The man not only makes Streeter’s life better than it ever was, but he also ruins the life of Streeter’s best friend and the object of his envy, Tom. Tom has the best of everything, but after Streeter makes his agreement with the stranger, Tom’s life suddenly turns to shambles while Streeter makes it out on top.

To be honest, Streeter is a complete jerk. The story itself had no point. If a character makes a deal with the devil, you expect something to happen and, besides the role-reversals, nothing happens. Also, in this story King seems to do more telling than showing, which is not the mark of a good storyteller.

After the first two tales, “Fair Extension,” I expected better of its author.

Never fear, the fourth and final novella, “A Good Marriage,” is far more intriguing. While looking for batteries in the garage, Darcy Anderson finds a box belonging to her husband, Bob, who is away on a business trip. In that box, she finds the identification cards of a woman who she knows has recently gone missing. After doing some research online and matching it up with the names and years of women who have previously gone missing, Darcy discovers her husband is Beadie, the woman-killer from the news. In the back of the book, King says he based this story on the BTK killer (Bind, Torture and Kill, for those unaware) and what his wife must have been feeling when her husband was revealed to be the man who committed such horrendous crimes. The realistic spice that tidbit adds to the story probably made this novella my favorite of the four.

I liked the image of Darcy feeling like the woman she sees in the mirror is the “Darker Wife,” and now she is living a “Darker Life, where every truth was written backwards.”

To me, the way King described Darcy’s feelings sounded like a gothic “Through the Looking Glass.” The two worlds, one of which Darcy never imagined existed, collide and create havoc for her in the world she has become accustomed to.

King writes an afterword in which he asks, “If you don’t want to see, why in God’s name would you dare the dark at all?” King also explains that in writing “Full Dark, No Stars,” he was trying to make his stories seem real. For the most part he accomplished this.

Take out “Fair Extension,” and this book would be fairly good. It was a good marriage of horror, gore and realism, but I won’t be driving back into 1922 anytime soon.

Contact Adrienne Savoldi at [email protected].