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I found this novel 'Full Dark, No Stars' at a charity shop and bought it for no particular reason. I'd read King before and quite liked some of his work but other works I found a bit cliched and boring.
This collection of novella length stories really jumps straight into the darkness and depth of depravity and it's really not long before the horror aspect lurches up and grabs the reader by the throat. I never thought I was squeamish or that a book could scare me but the first story in this collection, called '1922' is one of the goriest and most disturbing things I've ever read. It involves a fed up farmer and his warring wife. The level of gruesomeness is beyond anything I've ever encountered before! Just when I thought it couldn't get any more horrible and gory something more horrific happens and continues to happen throughout the story. It's almost like the Devil is laughing at the characters in this story, although it's not undeserving. This is definitely not a book for bed time reading. I tried and I was literally having trouble sleeping afterwards!
There are actually three other stories in the book which take place in different times and places and this Hodder publication also includes a bonus short story by the 'master of horror'. There is also an afterword section.
I found the writing to be easy to read, clever and bold. I felt invested in all of the stories and I found the characters to be believable and lifelike. The level of horror was a bit of a shock to the system, I have to be honest, but it never seems like gore for the sake of gore. It's cleverly tied to the psyche of all of the characters involved as well as to us as the reader.
If you like incredibly scary and unsettling horror stories with very vivid descriptions of death, murder, natural decay and the horrors of nature then this book is for you. My paperback copy says it is costs £7.99 but you may pick up this 2011 publication cheaper or find it at your local library.
the thing I like about Stephen King is that, although he writes in a relatively small genre (horror/ psychological thrillers) he always finds new ways to tell old stories; unlike some other genre authors, (...Dean Koontz...ahem) you never feel he is phoning in any of his stories, despite his longevity.
Some of my favourite King stories come from his novellas, and this book is no different. It features four novellas, of varying length and quality, but all with the same underlying theme; what would an ordinary person do in an extraordinary situation? would you do the same? Do we all have a darker, inner person that comes to the surface sometimes? . Its a great idea, but also necessarily a bleak one. Real people do not speak or act the way that many fiction writers make them, something King has always spoken against, and in real life the consequences can be very bad. Very bad indeed.
I enjoyed the collection as a whole, and liked the idea of the theme, but felt that two of the stories were clearly superior to the other two. I will mention brief outlines below, but do not want to give too much away to spoil anything. The joy in reading a good yarn is always in the surprise.
My favourite of the collection is also the first tale, '1922'. In this story, set in bleak 1920's Nebraska, we meet simple farmer Wilfred James, happy living a simple rural life with his wife and son. When his wife Arlette wants to sell up and move away, to the big city, Wilfred decides there is only one course of action he can take. He soon learns that things are never as simple in reality, and we follow him on a journey that can only lead to one outcome. Its very bleak, atmospheric, and you are torn between sympathy for Wilfred, trapped as he is by events, and being unsettled by his actions and decisions. I am sure Frank Darabont is rubbing his hands with glee...
The second story, 'Big Driver' for me was the weakest in the book. Although I liked the main character, mystery writer Tess, and her narration, the story just seemed a little too pat, and the ending was, for me, unsatisfying. Flashes of a good story, but felt like one that had been gathering dust in a drawer until King threw it into this collection. The story tells of the perils of taking a shortcut down a rural back road, but also asks just how far would you go to seek revenge?
Story three is 'Fair Extension', too short to really be a novella. I had to read this one twice to make sure I didn't miss anything. Its a strange combination of humour, and horror at the actions of main character Dave Streeter. Suffering from cancer, you initially feel sympathy for him, but when he has the chance to find a cure, but at terrible cost to others close to him, will he? would you?. It reminded me of a particularly dark Twilight Zone episode. I felt unsatisfied by the ending, but that's probably me; the characters should write the story, not be made to fit the story ,as King himself says. That being so, the ending is probably apt.
The final story, 'A Good Marriage' is perhaps the most unsettling, as it strikes the closest to home. Do we really know everything about our husbands and wives? Darcy Anderson thought she did too, happily married for over 20 years, until a chance discovery in the garage changes everything. The story is exactly the way I think something like this would play out in real life, King perfectly captures the horror, then rationalisation, then solution. Its the one story I think he allowed himself a happy ending, if a somewhat dark one.
Stephen King also adds a nice epilogue to the book, giving a brief background to the inspiration for the stories, and his aim for the book.
Its a good, solid read, and not just for horror fans.
I eagerly anticipate the release of any Stephen King book and this one was no exception. I bought it the day it was released and had finished it within the week. So...
'Full Dark, No Stars' is made up of four 'novellas,' or long-short stories. Until I read short stories by Stephen King I was not a fan, however his take on them has definitely turned me. The length of all four stories in this book seems just right to me-not so long that you get bored, but long enough to give you a feel of each charcter and allow you to become involved with the story. I found myself immersed in them straight away. Although Stephen King is known as predominantly a horror writer, these are more psychological horror in my opinion.
The first story is '1922.' I really liked the opening paragraph, "My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession. In June of 1922 I murdered my wife..." It reveals enough to interest the reader straight away. Mid way through this story it reminded me somewhat of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' however by the end I found this story much darker.
The second story, 'Big Driver,' is about a female writer who gets raped and left for dead on her way home from a late night book reading. I think it looks at the darkness a person can find inside themself, when she takes her revenge. Although I found it easier to identify with the character in this story, I did not find it quite as haunting or memorable as '1922.' Still a good story though.
The third story, 'Fair Extension,' is about a man with cancer for a 'life extension.' It has more of a fantasy element then the other three stories. Fans of 'Thinner,' will probably appreciate this story. It makes you think about the dark side people have hidden and the lengths they will go to in dire situations.
'A Good Marriage,' is the final story in the book. It is by far my favourite. I found it really easier to sympathise with the character and the horror of her situation. The action she was forced to take makes you wonder what you would do in her situation...
Overall I really enjoyed this book. When I was reading it I did not analyse every paragraph, I simply sunk into the story, which in my opinion means it was a good book. After I finished it, I was left thinking about the stories and the theme of darkness is quite haunting. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend. It is perfect for losing yourself in.
Well, I've finally read Stephen King's latest book, unless he's managed to sneak another in while I've waited to get to this one. Published in 2010 I imagine he's working on another even as I write this, he is still my favourite writer and I like to think I know a few of his writing tricks by now. The clues are there for anyone to see if they look hard enough, he often writes them into his stories. So when I read 'Under the Dome' I knew a book of novellas would soon follow.
This time the critics seem to have come down on the right side of the reviews, with many saying it's one of his best and darkest books yet. I don't know about the latter, I've been in some very dark places with Steve before now, but the best? Possibly, it certainly got to me so I wondered how to approach the review. After all, it's hard to review a book when you know what you want to say but are afraid of writing it, just in case you don't get it right. Are you ready for the dark? Well let's get started.
Four Little Gems.
Full dark is a collection of long short stories, if you get what I mean. Some call them novellas and maybe that applies to the first two but the last two are really just long stories. Steve is the master of this art form and it's his collections that have produced the best in films, including one of the best I've ever seen, 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Stand by me.' Normally he writes his short stories and novellas in between his novels, especially when he needs a break from something that's going to be a long book. This time I think he has been building up to this collection for a while. There are hints of the darkness in these in Lisey's Story and Duma Key. That's my speculation don't take it as truth.
The first story in this collection (1922) is about a man driven to murder by what he calls 'a stranger inside him, the Conniving Man.' Wilfred James murdered his wife back in 1922 and was aided but not abetted by his son, Henry. Arlette, his wife owned 100 acres of land, which she wanted Wilf to sell along with his own 80 acres. Pushed to his limits he kills her and dumps her body down an old well. The story that follows is about how it ruins his son's life and haunts his own but being a Stephen King story that's like saying Black beauty was a nice horse and had a good race.
The second is called Big Driver and carries on the theme of the stranger inside us with a deeply disturbing tale of a female author who on her way back from a book-signing trip, is raped and left for dead by a giant of a man. Afraid of being hounded by the press and losing her good name she stoops to revenge and in doing so lets all hell loose in the name of retribution.
The third, Fair Extension takes the concept of exchanging one kind of hell for another. When Dave Streeter is riddled with Cancer and not expecting to live past the year he meets a stranger, a man who sells 'extensions' on mortgages, marriages, certain parts of the male body and even life. George Elvid (work it out) asks only that someone else has to take on the 'badness' preferably a person that Streeter hates, but who will be the recipient of the bad luck and will it come back to haunt Streeter? Well this is a Stephen King story so as he often says himself, 'all bets are off.'
Last, but not least is a disturbing little tale again about that lurking stranger inside a person. Only this time it's a wife who discovers that her husband of many years has a dark secret and he's about to return home from a business trip and discover his own wife can keep secrets as well. 'A Good Marriage' is probably the darkest in the book, as it really hits home.
Dark deeds aplenty.
I promised myself I wouldn't give too much away so I'm limiting myself to what insights I can put forward, but I'd hate to spoil the plot for someone else. I normally read one or two reviews just in case I duplicate another's review. I like to think I have my own unique insight, but King fans are often very clever and we do tend to think alike. We wouldn't be King fans if we didn't have some insights into the man's mind.
With this set of stories the theme is darkness and the stranger that lurks inside all of us unless we are saints. None of the main characters could be classed as really bad people, human, definitely, monsters only by circumstances. Even then you are going to find yourself feeling sorry for almost all of King's masterfully drawn characters. One thing Steve does is to tell a great story and get under the skin of his characters so that we are almost there with him as well. You can't stay neutral with King's characters; they are so real while you read it's more an act of living the story than reading it. In his afterward, he says much the same, that he can only tell his story's as he sees them, not to please an audience, but to stay true to himself.
I think this is the nearest I've ever got to Steve's answering back his critics, of which there have been many over the last few books who said he was losing his touch. I wanted him to answer back, but politely he declines, instead he makes a comeback that cannot fail to blow his critics away. Never has a story almost leapt off the page as in 1922. His character here is as unlucky as Job and like him he rails against his misfortune. I forgot the character was fiction, I nearly believed it was a true story, such is it's power. The setting is so true that I could see the run down farm, the depression era, seedy motels and country justice, that isn't always fair. It's also a pure horror, unlike the others that are subtler, 1922 is downright frightening and very gory in places. Strangely though, it's also the saddest. I see this one as a great film, who knows?
There won't be a woman reading this who wouldn't feel for the character in Big Driver. We don't like rapists and the idea of getting back at them is sheer poetry. It's a rough justice and sometimes you want to look away, but you never say stop. The third tale is maybe the weaker one, but it still holds a lot of power and dark humour. I'd like to think this is the better of the endings.
I thought the characters in A Good marriage were maybe Steve's own take on the way you think you may know someone only to find you've been fooled for years. Nobody likes to be played for a fool and Darcy Anderson may be naïve but in the end she's nobody's fool. I loved this story, it's quirky and sometimes rather nasty, but it has its moments of dark mastery giving the reader plenty to think about long after finishing the book.
I could write a lot more but would lose my friends along the way. Nobody likes a smartass and I'd like to keep my readership. I love Stephen King's books and I am pretty sure I've read them all now. I've been with him (a constant reader) since his first book and even managed to suss him out when he masqueraded as Richard Bachman for a while. When you pick up a Stephen King book you are going on a journey and it's going to sweep you away, sometimes to the dark zones as he does in this collection.
He's been compared to Dickens, which has annoyed some people, but Dickens told a great story and so does Steve. His stories may not always seem so different but he knows his playing fields and uses them well. I've never been to Maine but I know I'd recognize it well. This is the mark of a great writer and if you are willing to take the journey then turn down the main lights turn on a lamp and don't stir until the end, who knows what is waiting for you?
My copy of this book was my own purchase I paid about five pounds second hand for the hardback book, as all my SK books are hardback when I can afford them. Amazon has the hardback at £10.97 and paperback at £4.47. By the way, in case you hadn't guessed, I give this five dooyoo stars and 10 out of ten of my own.
My title comes from a King concept, maybe you know it well, if not stick around and you soon will.
Thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller. 2011.
Stephen King has been on something of a roll recently, turning out a series of books which in terms of quality, match those of his earliest efforts. As noted in my previous reviews of King's recent works, his shift away from supernatural to psychological horror has proved fruitful, breathing new life into an author who in the mid-late 90s seemed to be running out of steam.
This run of form continues with Full Dark, No Stars, itself a further departure from the author's recent offerings. It contains four stories - each longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella (making them somewhat hard to describe!). In some ways, this is possibly the hardest literary style to master. Each tale lacks the depth and detail which full length novels can offer, but lack the instant punch and impact of short stories. The mid-length tale needs an author to set up the story efficiently and without waffle, and yet provide enough detail and depth of character to captivate the reader. Certainly, it's a format which King himself has had mixed fortunes with in previous outings; in Full Dark, No Stars, he nails it.
The reason it works is because in most of the tales, King successfully blends the best elements of a short story work with those of a full-length novel. From the short story mode, he takes the fast-pacing and regular plot developments to keep the reader's attention. From the longer novel format, he takes strong characterisation, ensuring that the main character in each story is fully-fleshed out and capable of evoking emotion or a reaction from the reader.
Characters are introduced quickly and efficiently and always act like real people, rather than the artificial constructs of an author's mind. Indeed, what is most noticeable about this collection is the range of human emotions that the characters display - both positive and negative. Through their words and actions, they demonstrate hope, greed, despair, anger, nastiness, humour, generosity and so on. This means that no matter how outlandish the stories become, they are always grounded in some sort of reality. It also means that the reader cares about the characters and is interested in them and their plight.
In three out of the four stories, King uses psychological, rather than supernatural elements to instil a sense of fear and unease in his reader. This makes them far more effective and disturbing because they are realistic. Most of the situations in this book could genuinely happen to anyone, which makes them far scarier. Indeed, it is noticeable that the weakest story in the collection is the one which (possibly) relies on a heavier supernatural element.
Many of the tales are surprisingly thought-provoking, as well as entertaining. They raise some interesting questions about modern life ,human behaviour and attitudes. What would you do, for example, if (as one of the stories poses) you suddenly find out after 27 years of a happy marriage that you husband is a serial killer? OK, it's not something (thankfully) which many of us have to face, but it does make you wonder whether you can ever truly know or trust anyone.
The stories in this collection are not always easy to read, since they touch on some very dark areas of the human psyche. In the author notes at the end, King professes they were not easy to write, either and that comes across. The subject matter of all the stories is rather sobering and (as the title of the anthology implies) focuses on the darker side of human nature, providing a very bleak and cynical view of life. Most of the stories get away with this as they also add in just enough humanity to temper it, but if you like light, happy tales, this is definitely a book to avoid.
Taken in order, the four tales are as below:
Ironically, King chooses the weakest tale in the book to start off the collection. This is the story I struggled most to get into and I rather concerned that I might not enjoy the book if the stories were all like this. As noted above one of the main reasons I didn't find it as enjoyable was because it relied more on the unlikely supernatural elements (although it also considers the nature of madness)
The plot is written from the perspective of someone writing his final confession to the murder of his wife several years earlier - a murder he coerced his teenage son into covering up. Although she has been dead for over 8 years, the man is haunted by his wife and the rats she sends to torment him. There are interesting elements to the tale: where does madness end and the supernatural begin? ; whilst King also widens out the story to look at the long term impact of the events on both the murderer and everyone around him. As the lies, the deceit and the anger build up, they have far-reaching consequences which cause further pain and damage.
Even allowing for that, the main reason the tale doesn't work is simply that every character in it is so dislikeable, with almost no redeeming features. Focussing on the very worst of human nature, they are all so horrible that the reader's sympathies are never engaged and you end up feeling that everyone has got exactly what they deserve. This emotional vacuum at the heart of the story is never successfully overcome, and it was a definite relief when I reached the final page.
When a moderately successful author is raped and left for dead by a man who stopped to help her repair her tyre, she does not go to the police, but instead begins to plot her revenge. Big Driver is a far better story of the human need for justice and vengeance and features a plot line which manages to steer clear of the seedier rape-revenge dramas that were popular in 70s exploitation cinema. Again, the central idea at the heart of Big Driver is extremely distasteful, but King gets away with it, thanks to a "heroine" who manages to steer clear of genre stereotypes and comes across as a real person having to deal with real issues in the only ways that will bring her peace. True, there are some elements of the tale which are slightly predictable and recall films such as Deliverance, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but this not necessarily a bad thing. Once again, for a "disposable story", it raises some interesting questions around how far people are willing to go in the name of justice and revenge . All these elements combine to make it a powerful (if at times slightly distasteful) read.
The shortest (and arguably the best) tale sees a man dying of cancer make a deal with a stranger. In return for being cured, he must give up 15% of his income every year, and nominate someone who has to be the recipient of the disease which has been lifted from him.
This tale raises some really interesting questions. How far you would go to rid yourself of pain and misery, even when you know you are condemning someone else to that miserable fate. The story delivers on its central premise by the bucket load, providing a tale which raises some interesting moral questions, yet which never gets too heavy and is always very readable. Although the character at the heart of this book is (in many ways) just as selfish and despicable as the one in 1922, the tale offers a much stronger human element - if only because (if you're honest), you would probably do the same as the main character if you were in the same situation. The story provides no pat, easy answers and delivers a powerful, slightly unexpected, but highly satisfying ending which perfectly suits the nature of the story.
A Good Marriage
After 27 years of a mostly happy marriage, a woman discovers disturbing evidence that her husband may be a serial killer, responsible for at least 11 deaths.
This is a story which has a high impact because its central concept is simply so horrific and points to the deep, dark secrets that are hidden within many a happy marriage. It also raises questions of duality and whether you can ever truly know or trust anyone. Another bleak take on humanity, A Good Marriage is a dark tale of deceit, but one in which the monster is all too human. This concluding story is highly effective at raising interesting questions about human nature and the ability of people to rationalise and justify even the most horrific actions. At the same time, King never lets the story get too dark and manages to tell a powerful, yet darkly entertaining tale.
Far more grown-up than many of the monster tales of King's youth, all the stories in this book rely on psychological horror and suspense and the nature of the human mind, and they are all the more effective for it. 1922 aside, each one also retains a strong human element which engages the sympathy of the reader and ensures that, however vile and distasteful their actions might be, we understand why they do the things they do.
A strong collection in which three out of the four tales are very readable, entertaining and thought-provoking. Only the weak 1922 lets the side down, but three out of four ain't bad and this anthology will be welcomed by King fans.
Full Dark, No Stars
Hodder & Stoughton, 2010
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
If I had to name some things other than family that had been a constant part of my life I would be hard pressed to come up with a list of answers. Posessions break or become surplus to requirement, people come and go and personal circumstances inevitably change. Reading has always been a big part of my life, I was introduced to the delights a good book could offer at a very early age so I suppose I could add reading to my imaginary 'constants list'. Stephen King by default therefore features on my list too having read every single book he has ever written in my time and like a good friend has been with me for at least 25 years of my life. There are not many authors I get excited about, I have a voracious appetite when it comes to reading and can feverishly work my way through a pile of paperbacks without giving much thought to who I'm reading. King is different. He is the only author whose books I actually look forward to reading with anticipation and when a new release is announced I make sure I pre-order my own hardback copy.
Full Dark, No Stars is the title of Stephen Kings latest book, released on the 9th Novemeber 2010 Amazon fulfilled my pre-order and I duly received my purchase on its release date. Due to one thing and another it took me longer than usual to get round to reading the book, but once I started I couldn't put it down and now, 352 pages later I am ready to write my review.
If you are a reader of Kings books you will know that among his extensive back catalogue of releases he often writes short stories. Full Dark features a collection of 4 of the darkest tales I have ever read of his, the title being a subtle reference to what you will encounter if you to choose to read them for yourself. The King trademarks are there, indepth characterisation, compelling narratives and absorbing storylines but underpinning them all is a reminder of just how much of a sick puppy Stephen King can be when he puts his mind to it.
I don't want to review each of the stories in the collection as this will spoil the surprises the book has in store. Instead I will briefly mention the first two in the volume, just as a taster of what you can expect if this sounds like something that may appeal to you.
"1922" is written as a confession from someone who has done a *very* bad thing. Remisicent of Edgar Allan Poes most famous book we learn what drove farmowner Wilfred James to commit an unspeakable act of violence and the consequences he has to face for his actions. Whilst on the surface this is a typical Stephen King book with much of the focus in the opening chapters on fleshing out the characters of James and his family as the story develops there are unexpected twists and turns and graphic descriptions of violence which are unchatacteristic for the author. I would never describe Stephen King as being a 'fluffy' writer, he has taken us to some very dark places in the past, but 1922 is at times unflinching in its explicitness and could have easily been written by an author such as Shaun Hutson, someone well known for their graphic horror stories . This was a surprise to me and very much sets the tone for the remainder of what appear in this collection and if you think you know what you are going to get with a Stephen King book then this certainly makes you think again.
The second story in the collection, "Big Driver", tackles the exploitation-film-staple of revenge after a successful female author is savagely raped and left for dead. This is where things get even darker in the collection and again decidedly uncharacteristic for Stephen King. Big Driver is another unflinching and graphic tale but written with the usual nuances that King is famous for, the majority of the story is written from the viewpoint of the main character and we learn what her plans are as she decides what to do next. Much of the early part of the story makes for uncomfortable reading as the rape is described in explicit detail and rather like the recent spate of extreme cinema that has seen horror films change in tone over recent years its almost as if King has jumped onboard the 'torture porn' bandwagon in this tale. It isn't all doom and gloom though and whilst the subject matter is shocking King has a way of bringing humour and warmth into the tale, if any of the short stories contained here could be adapted for film then Big Driver is perhaps the most obvious choice.
The final two stories, "Fair Exchange" and "A Good Marriage" continue the dark theme which is so obvious in this collection. Both are excellent standalone stories and even though as a whole Full Dark goes to places rarely visited by Stephen King they are all stories that will captivate as well as repulse the reader.
Many people consider King to be a 'safe' writer, me included. He consistently delivers best selling books to the masses and I admit that over the years I have perhaps become a little blasé to his work even if I have seldom been disappointed with what I have read. I have always been a massive fan of the writer and other than a couple of books which I found difficult to get in to I could pretty much rely on the fact that his books would pull me into the world he has created and whilst his books are never predicable they could be accused of being formulaic and safe. Good conquers evil the same as night turns into day is a generally how it works in a King book, "Full Dark" is like a wake up call, he has dropped the nice-guy persona and adopted a grittier, edgier side to his character here and delivers some nasty little stories that I as a horror fan certainly didn't expect but have to say, loved.
This isn't a typical Stephen King book I have to warn you, don't expect happy endings with these stories and for everything to work out OK. Real life isn't like that and this book doesn't pretend that it is, bad things happen to good people all the time and sometimes to those who least deserve it.
If you are a new reader of Stephen King then this book may end up giving you the wrong impression of how he usually writes and exisiting fans may be shocked by what they find in here. I liked the change of style in Full Dark, 'hardcore' horror fiction readers should find plenty to enjoy in these 352 pages and it makes a welcome change to be able to read a few new short stories rather than being faced with an epic tome such as his last release of "Under the Dome".
I paid under £9.00 for my Hardback copy of the book and at the moment it can be bought from Amazon for £9.49. The paperback version is due to be released in July of this year if that is your preferred format or alternatively it is available for the Kindle priced at £9.99. Be it hardback, paperback or electronically I cant see you being disappointed with this, you may be shocked and surprised but if you are a horror fan this should definitely be required reading as far as I'm concerned.
Full Dark No Stars gets Full Marks, Five Stars from me (see what I did there?) and is highly recommended. Thanks for reading my review.
Please note that this review also appears on ciao under my username.