Back to the dark side

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - Re­view by MATT THORNE Full Dark, No Stars

Author: Stephen King Pub­lisher: Hod­der and Stoughton, 340 pages STEPHEN King has al­ways been an­tag­o­nis­tic to cer­tain post­mod­ernist qual­i­ties in fic­tion, and in the afterword to his lat­est col­lec­tion, Full Dark, No Stars, he states this ar­gu­ment in his most force­ful lan­guage yet: “Bad writ­ing is more than a mat­ter of s*** syn­tax and faulty ob­ser­va­tion; bad writ­ing usu­ally arises from a stub­born re­fusal to tell sto­ries about what peo­ple ac­tu­ally do.” For writ­ers who steer away from re­al­ism, King says, he has “noth­ing but con­tempt”.

As much as I love King’s writ­ing, I’ve never un­der­stood quite where this anger comes from, par­tic­u­larly since he’s started to re­ceive the crit­i­cal at­ten­tion he’s due. If a few writ­ers want to es­chew re­al­ist fic­tion and treat writ­ing books as (a term King spits out with dis­gust) “a lit­er­ary game”, so what?

He also seems to miss an es­sen­tial dis­tinc­tion: books are books; they are not life and, be­sides, there is plenty of lit­er­ary game-play­ing in his own work.

Still, afterword aside, Full Dark, No Stars is an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion, thrillingly mer­ci­less, and a ca­reer high point. All four novel­las deal with ret­ri­bu­tion. 1922 is a his­tor­i­cal novella about a man who kills his wife and hides her down a well; Big Driver has a Hitch­cock­ian set-up, in which an or­gan­iser of lit­er­ary events lures a cosy crime nov­el­ist to come to her town and then sends her Rolling Stones-lov­ing rapist son af­ter her; Fair Ex­ten­sion is an ironic and very con­tem­po­rary vari­a­tion on the “be care­ful what you wish for” set-up so beloved of horror nov­el­ists; and A Good Mar­riage is about a wife who dis­cov­ers ev­i­dence that her hus­band is a se­rial killer named Beadie.

King de­scribes the novel­las as “harsh” and says they were hard to write. I can be­lieve this. But at the same time, af­ter some lighter re­cent books, you can feel King rel­ish­ing this re­turn to the (very) dark side. For all King’s avowed se­ri­ous­ness of in­tent, he re­mains alert to the black com­edy of his di­a­bol­i­cal set-ups and more than one of his doomed char­ac­ters is re­duced to help­less laugh­ter by the pre­ci­sion of the hor­ri­ble traps into which he’s placed them.

At the end of the col­lec­tion, King is purged and claims he’s happy to lead us back into the sun­shine.

But I don’t be­lieve him: as soon as our backs are turned, he’ll be back down in that cel­lar with his mon­sters, ex­tin­guish­ing the light and bolt­ing the door. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.