I've mentioned a couple times now that I've been trying to write this review of Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars and yet something kept getting in the way. Usually my laziness. The first thing I want to make clear is I didn't procrastinate on writing this because I didn't like it. Because I did. I also happen to think I have a pretty good excuse for putting this off a little longer, since technically this morning (Sunday) I was in Boston at a friend's bachelorette party* and had to go through all of the steps of sleeping (for a couple hours) then trekking my ass back to NY. But I will get this written! If only because I've already finished one other book and I've started too more. I don't want to get too far from reading this before I write down something. But if this post is just a rambly mess of nonsense, you at least know why.
Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of 5 short stories. Or maybe 5 novellas? 3 novellas and 2 short stories? I'm not really sure how to make this distinction but there are 5 stories and the book is 386 pages long. Take from that information what you will. I've been burned by failed short story collections before** but I've had success with King short stories before so I was hopeful. I'm never sure the best way to review a collection of stories, so I'll go with some brief thoughts on the 5 different stories.
A man, Wilfred James, writes his confession about how he murdered his wife. It's a straightforward premise and there's nothing supernatural in the story but it feels like King. The story is a true tragedy. A single action (the murder of Arlene) sets into action a downward spiral for Wilfred and his son Hank. It's a gory story, at least in parts, and I spent so much time wishing things had just turned out differently for the character. Which I suppose is the normal reaction for the tragedy. "I wish you could go back in time and not do X so then Y won't happen." But of course, they can't go back. So I just followed the story wishing and hoping things would turn out OK, but knowing that isn't how things work out. The story is disgusting with an unlikable protagonist (he murdered his wife cos she wanted to sell the farm and move to the city and he didn't want to) but the story works so well.
When I was first reading this story I was really upset by it. I wasn't sure if I was going to finish it. In the end it was my favorite story, although certainly not the best one. I've gone back and forth deciding if this next bit of info is a spoiler or not. I've decided no, the story stays the same if you know this is coming (and you sort of guess it's coming). However, if you want to skip ahead, feel free. The reason the story upset me and I thought maybe I'll just skip this one is a violent rape scene. There are worse, more violent, more graphic rape scenes in other books, but that didn't make this one easy and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Which I suppose is the purpose so point King. It's not the best story because it's sort of contrived HOWEVER it's a revenge fantasy story so I acknowledged how unrealistic things were and decided I didn't care. It may not have been realistic but it felt better. I was cheering.
This is the only story with supernatural elements. A man makes a pact with the devil, but it's not the typical Faustian bargain story. There's no moral. There's no lesson. It's similar to the first story in that it's a tragedy with an unlikeable narrator, but the supernatural element makes the difference. Overall I preferred the first one because it's more fleshed out but expanding on the characters in this story wouldn't have served the purpose. It did what it needed to do, what it wanted to do and I can't imagine it working differently.
A Good Marriage
How well can you really know someone? Even someone you've been married to for years? It's not a new question but I haven't seen it explored quite this way, from this point of view. I don't want to say too much because it would be easy to give a lot away. As things are revealed I kept hoping for a logical explanation, something other than what was staring me in the face. But even as I hoped for it, I knew that wouldn't be the case. Because if it was, then this wouldn't be a King story. This was excellent and disturbing.
Bonus story! Under the Weather
This was a creepy short story. It's only 15 pages long so there isn't a lot of time for character development. But like with "Fair Extension" that's not the point. However, I wasn't crazy about this story. It's weird and it's creepy but overall I was meh about it.
If I could identify any theme among the stories, it would be they all made me uncomfortable. But in a good way. Because if the stories didn't make me feel uncomfortable then I'm pretty sure I would need to check my moral compass.
*She of the bookish invitation
** I'm looking at you My Mother She Killed Me...
Title quote from page 42
King, Stephen. Full Dark, No Stars. Gallery Books, 2010