Random Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent most of today trying to dodge the impending threat of a migraine, but I think I’m finally up to reviewing the book I finished on Monday:

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

This collection of four long- and short-stories are not among King’s best. I only gave the book three stars on Goodreads. However. As my French VI professor once did with one of my lit tests (with abominable grammar), I graded up pour les idées. For the ideas.

All four stories in FD,NS deal with the shadows inside ordinary folks. People who might otherwise consider themselves “good” people, doing terrible things under extraordinary circumstances. A mid-western farmer, an astonishingly average mystery-writer, a middle-manager at a bank, and one very complacent housewife each take the reader on a journey to the heart of their own personal darkness. King is stretching here: two of the stories are written from a female point-of-view, something which has not always proven to be in his wheelhouse. The first story, 1922, is written in a first-person confessional style. Only one of these characters is a writer, and that one is female. It may be worth a read for long-time King fans, just to see the well-established writer continue to grow and take stylistic risks rather than going for the tried and true.

On a very basic level, each story could be tied to certain vices: 1922 with themes of pride, Big Driver’s wrathful writer, Fair Extension a parade of envy-borne cruelty and greed, and the complacent sloth of Darcy Anderson in A Good Marriage. These stories will keep you thinking beyond that first level. The moral quandaries presented in the female-driven stories are of the grayest hue Each of the male protagonists makes a strong case for why “they done what they did”, but it adds up to a lot of rationalizing what mostly amounts to greed and wounded pride.

None of the stories works perfectly. Housewife Darcy Anderson and mystery-writer Tess are drawn pretty broadly, and at times their inner dialogue is more like the idea of a woman than a fully-realized female. Pacing is an issue with 1922, which hums along in fine voice for long passages only to trip over dialogue straining for authenticity and overlong reflections on the narrator’s guilty conscience. The last few lines were cringeworthy, simply because I had to suspend too much disbelief (someone writing a confession would take the time to write that?). Fair Extension ends up laying on the moral a little too heavily, despite being the shortest story of the four, but it wound up being the story I thought about most when I finished reading. A few of the stories and characters will feel familiar to those well-versed in King’s work: Fair Extension‘s devil is reminiscent of Needful Things‘ Leland Gaunt, the story itself shows shades of Thinner. A Good Marriage follows a course similar to that of Dolores Claiborne, though Dolores proved a far more more memorable heroine than Darcy Anderson.

This collection is worth reading for serious King-fans, or those who are particularly interested in the craft of writing. The author tries some interesting things that work out often as not. For a casual horror-reader or someone just getting started with King’s work, it might be better to pick up another of his short-story collections.

Chair Rating:

For specific tastes, not the safest choice.

 

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