Written by: Stephen King
Synopsis: Is it possible to fully know anyone? Even those we love the most? What tips someone over the edge to commit a crime?
For a Nebraska farmer, the turning point comes when his wife threatens to sell off the family homestead.
A cozy mystery writer plots a savage revenge after a brutal encounter with a stranger.
Dave Streeter gets the chance to cure himself from illness - if he agrees to impose misery on an old rival.
And Darcy Anderson discovers a box containing her husband's dark and terrifying secrets - he's not the man who keeps his nails short and collects coins. And now he's heading home . . .
Prior to heading overseas, I decided to save myself suitcase space and only bring digital books to read, this turned out to be a terrible idea but I'll save that for another post, another day. Full Dark, No Stars was one of the books I decided to read on my trip, and was a fantastic way to pass the time on the 6 hour train from Shanghai to Beijing...while my battery lasted.
Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four short stories/novellas. Tapping directly into what Stephen King is good at, all four stories take a look at the human reality of a variety of crimes and situations. What happens when a wife of 30 years discovers her husband is a serial killer. Is it actually as simple as going to the cops? What about her son who has just put all of his money, energy and heart into starting a new advertising company, how would this news impact on him and his career? And who would actually believe that she had no idea, for 30 years, that her husband was routinely raping and savagely murdering young women? This is the crux of the fourth story, A Good Marriage, and the other three stories explore similar twists on common stories. As King says in 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, (and our fondest wishes for our fellowmen and the society in which we live) might sometimes be in vain. Often, even."And this is definitely the beauty of this collection. Each are very, very different stories, and each character handles their particular situation uniquely and encourage a variety of results, but you can't help but see the similarities which tie all four stories together. The hope that King speaks of, but also a certain power that comes from accepting the events they've been straddled with and resolving it in their own (not always conventional) way.
The first story takes place, surprise surprise, in 1922. After his wife inherits 100 acres from her father and decides she wants to sell up and move the family to the city, Wilfred James decides the only option available is to kill his wife. And the only way he can kill her is with his 14 year old son, Henry's, help. That's a pretty dark story in and of itself, but what this story is about is how this single event, disturbing and despicable as it is, tears the family (and other families) apart. Writing the full story out as a confession 8 years after the murder of his wife Arlette, Wilfred no longer lives on the farm and is convinced that his wife is haunting him and trying to run his life into the ground. Because it's all taking place in the past, Wilfred has a level of self-awareness to his storytelling which adds rich dimensions of shame, sadness, and wisdom that would have been absent if it had been told as it happened. The ending is especially grisly, but perfectly concludes a long and turbulent story.
Tess is a mystery writer with a distaste for flying and a penchant for short-cuts. When she's offered a short-cut home from a speaking arrangement, she takes it immediately and hits the road. Unfortunately for her, a serial rapist and murderer regularly traps the road and Tess finds herself the latest victim of 'Big Driver'. Miraculously managing to survive, Tess scrambles home but flips backwards and forward over what to do next. If she goes to the hospital and the police, her name will hit the headlines in a big way and her life and career will never be the same again. Interviews about her books will always come back to the question of her rape, news sites will question whether she was 'asking for it' (just look at her promo pic - where she has bare-skinned shoulders and come-hither eyes) and she'll never be able to escape the events that happened the night before. Basically, Tess goes through the trauma that countless women who have been sexually abused go through every day. If you report the rape, will they believe you, will your friends treat you differently, what if the guy finds you again, what if they dredge up that night in college where you had a threesome and use it against you... In some ways the after events (or at least the fear and confusion of the after events) are as terrifying as the rape itself.
Dave Streeter is riddled with cancer and has very little time left. When he dies he'll be leaving his solid, decent job, loving wife and two children behind - and it isn't fair. A chance meeting on a street behind the Derry Airport introduces Dave to Mr Elvid (care to rearrange that?) who offers Dave a life extension, he is in the business of extensions after all. The catch is that the 'badness' has to go somewhere, and if it isn't contaminating Dave's body he needs to direct it to someone he hates. The person Dave hates most in the world though? His best friend, Tom Goodhugh. Dave spent high school studying for the two of them, only to have Tom steal his girlfriend and go on to have a much more successful life in every single way. The story doesn't travel the way you'd expect it to, in fact the ending is kind of sudden and strange...but also satisfying. It's a much more straightforward story than the rest in this book, it's lighter (although still pretty dark), funnier and almost feels at odds with the rest of the book, yet also blends perfectly with the overall tone of the book.
A Good Marriage
As mentioned above, this story is about a wife and mother who discovers that her kind, quiet and loving accountant husband has been a serial killer for 40 years. And not just any serial killer, this is a man who hunts down women, rapes, mutilates and murders them and then taunts the police about the crimes. Partially inspired by Paula Rader (wife of the BTK serial killer -Dennis Rader) who instilled disbelief when she claimed to have had no idea about her husband's other life, this story charts an aspect I've never thought of before. Even after she's found out the truth, she's amazed to still feel love for the man when he speaks or smiles a certain way, because she's spent 30 years loving that particularly mannerism. While she knows he needs to be turned in, she has to wrestle with what this says about her, her children, and the life she's lead. How could she not know, and what does it say when she still feels love for a man who has destroyed the lives of countless women and their families? She feels like one woman split into two, and the story filled me with an incredible empathy for what she was going through, and now I can't help but think about the woman or the families behind the countless criminals I've read about or watched on the news.
Each story is a unique view on a common story, and the result of four such dynamic tales is a book that forces you to consider the wider ramifications of crime, justice, revenge and murder. Add Stephen King writing at his best and you have a must-read book that really...must be read. Each story is pretty dark and harsh in the telling, but they are mostly free from supernatural horror elements, so if you've been waiting for something a little different from King which will still perfectly demonstrate whether you'll like his style, this book will fit the bill.