25 June 2013

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

This book contains four stories:

  • 1922 -- Murder on the plains, and its consequences.
  • Big Driver -- a writer returning from a public appearance has bad luck on the road.
  • Fair Extension -- in which one of literature's more classic characters makes an appearance.
  • A Good Marriage -- a wife finds out more than she would like to about her husband.
Stephen King is someday going to be known as a great writer of our time. Unfortunately, I think he's been given short shrift by the literary community, probably considered a "genre" writer, and isn't seriously considered to be among the current greats. No matter: I have spent some genuinely wonderful hours reading King's work, and this book was everything I could have hoped it to be. 

King has perhaps matured, or cooled down, or become a little less fantastic in his storytelling; but I wish to say that such great works of fantasy as "It," "The Stand,"  "Salem's Lot," or "The Shining" lose nothing by their inclusion of forces and beings from dimensions not normally experienced in reality. For that matter, "The Shining" was not driven by fantasy so much as alcoholism, and a terrible dementia no less real for having been vividly described. 

Full Dark, No Stars contains almost no ghosts. The gentleman in "Fair Extension" may be fantastic, but his existence has been fairly well accepted by human beings for many centuries. Instead, this book has, in King's own words, "ordinary people in extraordinary situations." (from the Afterword) 

I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they acknowledge that even our fondest hopes ... may sometimes be vain. ...nobility ... resides ... in trying to do the right thing ... when we fail ... hell follows. (ibid)

I know from other readings that King has a background of New England Protestant religion, and whether or not he personally believes in Hell, I know that its geography is familiar to him. King is a journeyman writer, who has literally written more books than I have been able to read, and I admire him beyond measure.

I can't recommend this book strongly enough. Go get it, and read it. Enjoy.


vet said...

Intrigued by your comments, I read a synopsis of 'Fair Extension' on Wikipedia. (Thus wilfully exposing myself to spoilers, obviously.)

It sounds - horrific, as usual. King is an author who, increasingly as he ages, it seems to me can be relied upon to go the extra mile to extinguish any redeeming spark of decency or hope in his main characters. I can't bring myself to read him any more.

I imagine you know that Plato thought poets and dramatists should only be allowed to show the best and noblest in human nature? Everything falling short of that ideal should be described, in third-person narrative only, with appropriate moral condemnations inserted to make sure the audience wasn't tempted to identify with it. And while obviously that's ridiculous, I think there is the kernel of a good point there. If we're constantly invited to identify or sympathise with thugs, bastards and scumbags, I think there's a real danger that we'll take on some of that moral colouration ourselves.

Eric Lester said...

Thanks very much for visiting, and commenting. This blog doesn't get much attention, even from me.

Your remarks are interesting, and quite thought-provoking. No, I didn't know Plato's opinion, but I have to say that I'm not sure that King's characters are all as low as you describe. Some are, I suppose. So are some of Cormac McCarthy's, James Lee Burke's, and Elmore Leonard's, to name a few. But there are almost always sympathetic aspects to the lowest of the low: perhaps this is the disturbing part.

I was reading something this morning that mentioned King's The Shining, and that writer pointed out that in the book (not so much in the movie), one feels that Jack, the insane protagonist, really wants to be a good father and husband; he just fails at it.

My education is spotty, and my skill as a critic nonexistent, but I do feel that there are characters in literature -- and even "genre" fiction -- that are more complicated than can be described in one or two dimensions. In this way, it seems to me, the writer better portrays the experience of human life.

To commit further atrocity by straying into an area where I am truly incompetent, the requirements of drama may be just a little bit different. On the classic stage, an actor must act larger-than-life, in both movement and emotion. His speech, as well as his morals, may well be oversimplified, or stylized, in deference to the form.

It's a pleasure to hear from you again. I think it's been years.


vet said...

Yep, it's been a long time. My fault, I hardly ever check my 'followed blogs' list. Nice to talk to you again.

I read a lot of King when I was younger, and I remember thinking The Shining was the best of the lot - and I agree with the analysis you mention. Jack is an entirely human protagonist, with very sympathetic weaknesses.

Reading the synopsis - particularly the ending - of 'Fair Extension' reminded me of Goethe's version of 'Faust'. There are many versions of the Faust legend, and each one has its own version of the precise terms of the title character's pact with the devil. In Goethe's version, it's not so much a pact as a bet: "you can wish for whatever you want, but if your wish is ever for your present state to be continued - in other words, if you ever wish for 'more of the same' - then it's game over, you lose, you're mine".