My reading relationship with Stephen King is complex. Every now and then I find myself enticed back into his nightmare world, almost as if I were a visiting long distance niece who is reminded just how much she adores her darkly, witty and slightly disconcerting uncle.
This 'visit' usually happens about once a year and is always a casual decision. Earlier this year I stumbled across 'Desperation' in a charity shop. I picked it up, not with any real intention to read it but when I did, I devoured it in less than twenty four hours. This is how I always end up reading King - in a dark, indulgent binge.
And so it was with 'Full Dark, No Stars': It happened to be the third choice on the infamous 3 for 2 bargain offer which usually lands you with a free book that gathers dust on the shelf until it makes its last chance saloon at the Charity Shop. But in King's old wily way, I found my hand lifting it from the shelf and I started reading it yesterday. You can tell from this review that the binge has happened.
If I'd paid enough attention to the blurb and not just the King name, I would have noticed it was a collection of (long) short stories; 1922, Big Driver, Fair Extension, A Good Marriage. If it hadn't been the third, I wouldn't have bothered. But I'm glad I did.
King doesn't shy from the adult content in his collection (He offers a kind of erudite 'justification' of this at the end of the book in the form of an authorial note on the importance of the 'truth of the story' etc) I'm kind of glad he did this because I was tempted to write King a missive on his instance (almost indulgence) on the trope of the abused woman.
Both '1922' and 'Big Driver' are classic, old school nineteen eighties horror against women tales. I think 'Big Driver' was a kind of attempt to redress the balance with a nod to female revenge / empowerment. But to be honest, it was a bit of a weak gender political message tacked on as if to justify the graphic descriptions of rape earlier in the story. It wasn't overly offensive - the intention had been good - it was just a little disappointingly and archaically executed.
I loved 'Fair Extension' - for me this is King at his best. The King that wrote 'Needful Things'. Clever, chilling exploration of the 'ordinary' man's capacity for cruelty and the canker of bitterness that can nestle in the heart of all of us.
The thing is with King, you know within minutes that your in stable, proficient hands. (Note I didn't use the word good!) King is an accomplished, confident storyteller. His characterisation is his strength. He pulls you into the character's world, you see through the eyes of them. It is never an objective observation with King - as a reader he makes you a part of the tale and this is why he is a master.
A recommended read.
Overall 4.5/5 (loses half a star for his lazy feminism :))
BTW - 'Desperation' is a fabulous read.