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February 8th, 2011


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08:09 pm - Full Dark No Stars
I just listened to the new Stephen King collection - Full Dark No Stars - on audio. This is a collection of four novellas. King's similar 1982 collection, Different Seasons, resulted in three films which were massive successes: Shawshank, Green Mile and Stand By Me. I can not imagine that this collection will have a similar fate. In the Afterward King describes the stories as 'Harsh' and even 'Assaultive', and this is a fair appraisal. I take 'assaultive' to mean that they assault the reader with unpleasant emotion. These are good stories, well written, but quite tough to get through. I often listen to audio novels in the bath or in bed, and a lot of this was not really suitable for such moments of relaxation. It is interesting that Shawshank Prison is mentioned in several places in different stories, and this collection answers the feel-good of the old collection with some feel-bad action. It's good but it is pretty harsh.

There are two general points about this collection, and they are features of King's writing in general. Firstly it has become quite an idiosyncrasy of King's work that many characters borrow characteristics from the writer. Among the characters in this series are an embarrassing drunkard, a bookish misanthrope, and a middle-brow writer almost killed on a backroad in Maine by a redneck in a van. Secondly this series dramatises the experience of stress splitting off parts of the core personality. These alter-egos are either recognised for what they are, by the more intelligent characters, or taken as ghosts and demons by the less insightful characters. The device was very well handled in these stories.

Oh, I thought of another overarching point. The stories in this series do not always portray women as sympathetic or good, but they are all informed by an understanding of violence against women, and how social conventions and prejudices limit women's choices and render them unprotected. I think there is one major mis-step in one of the stories, where the revelation that a person is evil coincides with the discovery that she is a lesbian. My guess - because I know King has liberal values - is that he would say 'well, anyone can be evil' and that's kind of the point. But I think it was mishandled and came across as gratuitous. I don't think it's homophobic but I think it was clumsy.

The four stories are:

1922: This is inspired by the brilliant Wisconsin Death Trip. It's about a farmhouse killing in rural Nebraska. I think in places it goes too lurid and overboard, but I only say that because the rest of it is so accomplished. I think he should have been confident enough in the story to do without some of the embellishments.

Big Driver: This is a story about a brutal rape of a woman and how she deals with it. I found it a hard read, but it is a well written and uncompromising look at violence against women. I think this could only work as prose, with the woman as the point of view subject, and not an object of the external gaze as she would be in a film, even a well-intentioned film.

Fair Extension: This actually doesn't fit in that well with the rest of the collection. It's about a man's bargain with Satan. It seems undeveloped to me. Least successful of the four, though perhaps its unsatisfactory nature is in some way the point? What redeemed it for me was the very funny energetic reading, which was full of a kind of wounded self-righteous selfishness which reminded me of George W Bush.

A Good Marriage: Inspired by the BTK killer. A wife discovers her mild mannered husband is a serial killer. Another successful exploration of a woman's subjective experience. This woman is a bit of a drip, which I guess is the point. The writing was effective and the forward-push of the plot was compelling.

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From:rozk
Date:February 8th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
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It's not actually clear that the woman is a lesbian, just that from the POV of the main character she presents as one. On the other hand, she also has children and a not entirely healthy relationship with them - there is stuff about vicarious sexuality going on that is so weird I am glad King didn't explore it too deeply. It is quite disturbing enough.
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From:communicator
Date:February 8th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I see your point, it was only the other woman's inference, but I thought the way that the revelation of her (supposed) lesbianism was kind of packaged up with revelations of unhealthy aspects of her character - well, a strange choice. From a different writer - let's say Koontz - I would have read it as prejudiced. The implication perhaps is that she was vicariously expressing her sexuality through her sons. I'm not happy with it really, but then as you say it adds to the feeling of disturbance, and no doubt that was intentional.
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From:tehomet
Date:February 8th, 2011 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting. Thank you.
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From:communicator
Date:February 8th, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
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It can be hard to give enough to help make a decision about reading it - without spoiling all the surprise. The third one, Fair Extension, sort of baffled me really, but I can't say more without giving it all away.

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