In Stephen King’s afterword he writes, ‘The stories in this book are harsh. You may have found them hard to read in places.’ In reading Full Dark, No Stars I found myself putting the book down many times due to the gritty nature of it’s descriptive actions. The queasy feeling would stay with me sometimes long after I’d gone to bed as I imagined all the ways I didn’t want to die.
A collection of short stories, and possibly some of King’s most disturbing writing, Full Dark, No Stars binds together four separate stories which manage to frighten us most because each one could be possible.
Unlike King’s history of threading together the real and unreal until you’re not sure when you’ve crossed over, this collection is frightening purely because such incidents and people exist in our world every day. It’s not impossible to believe these characters and crimes are real and most likely based on real events.
‘1992’ is a story of Wilfred Leland James who is writing his confession to committing a murder. A man who appears callous in the beginning, leaving this reviewer with little sympathy towards his situation, increasingly descends into his own living hell through a series of chain reactions triggered by his crime. Normally irritated by stories set on a farm, due to the need of the writer to describe how manual labour takes place at every turn, I found ‘1922’ moved along at a steady pace with each sentence earning its place upon the page.
The second story in the collection, ‘Big Driver’, is about a mystery writer (and let’s be honest, it just wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if there wasn’t at least one writer character) who survives a horrifying encounter when she gets a flat tyre alongside an empty highway. We’re all familiar with how a scene like this plays out, however the reaction of this somewhat mousy woman is far from cliché. ‘Big Driver’ delivers an unexpected twist, a twist that left me arguing with its protagonist to deal with her situation in a different way.
While the least gruesome in detail and horror of all the stories, ‘Fair Extension’ was by far the one I liked least. The story is of a middle-aged man who has been diagnosed with cancer and makes a deal with a jinn-like man to extend his life. Like all such deals, this bargain comes at a cost. Unfortunately, this character seems only to flourish as the story continues with little regard for the cost that balances out his new good fortune. ‘Fair Extension’ ends without character growth or remorse and because of this it left me cold. I can fairly say I hated the story.
Finally, ‘A Good Marriage’ is the last story in the book, possibly the most predictable of all four, yet one I enjoyed the most. Where King failed to bring us justice in the first three, I felt the final story brought me the closure I was looking for. A wife discovers a terrible secret about her husband and realises he has kept this secret the entire length of their marriage. This story opens all the questions of how well do we really know anyone, even those closest to us? It sheds light on how easily terrible things can go on without our even knowing.
It’s true, King is the master of bringing our fears to the surface, and he normally succeeds in this by bringing in his much-patented supernatural creature and setting it free amongst our every day environment, tricking our minds into believing it could be true. He plays on the symbolism we see in those non-human beings. But in this book, King only writes those things we read about every day on the news and doesn’t have to stretch our imaginations too far to scare us, because these types of events are happening all the time.
Normally we have the convenience of ignoring that which we don’t want to see by turning off the TV, but King brings those brushed aside situations and places it directly in front of us in the form of Full Dark, No Stars, forcing us to think about what elements and reactions really sit within the human form.
I have painted a dark review, but King has done it again and brought the world a powerfully faultless and cleverly spun read. If you are not a Stephen King or dark story fan, I’d say skip this book. But if you, like me, secretly enjoy being a little bit frightened and occasionally like looking into the darkness of the human soul you will find this to be one of his best collections.
Review published by Media/Culture Words.