Sunday, 13 September 2009
Sunday Salon - Stephen King is back!!!
Sometimes, very occasionally, a book is worth the buzz around it. Even more rarer, a book is better than the reviews. I am so thrilled to say that Duma Key deserves more rave reviews than it got. It's a return to vintage Stephen King, MINUS the extra gore-fest that he admitted in his first writing nonfiction look at horror book, Danse Macabre, that he would do if he got stuck when writing. He would go for the gross-out rather than holding back. In Duma Key, he has learned how to hold back, and for the first time since The Shining, I found myself scared, and hearing noises in the dark that weren't really there, and scared of my open windows at the back balcony - I had to close them both in order to get rid of the feeling someone was there, looking in, so I could finish the book. That's how effectively creepy Duma Key is. And I am so delighted to be able to say it. Uncle Stevie is back.
Duma Key is about a wealthy construction owner who survives a terrible accident at one of his worksites, and what happens to him afterward. A lot of people aren't aware that when there is a head injury, sometimes the personality changes, and anger and other emotions are much more uncontrollable for the victim. King writes about this in his character, and it is one of the strengths of this novel that the anger doesn't take over; this is not a novel about rage, it's a novel about finding strength to recover no matter the odds. And Edgar Freemantle loses a lot in this story, but he doesn't lose his sense of humour, and Stephen King the author doesn't lose the plot.
So now you are asking me, "So Susan, what about the horror? Is there any good horror in this story?" Oh my, yes, there is. To aid in his recovery, Edgar's doctor recommends a change of scenery, and Edgar goes, as many people do, to someplace warm: Florida. Except he's not in the centre of Florida with all the snowbirds (as we call our Canadians who head down south for the winter, and there are a lot of us, thus the term!), he's down on the edge of Florida in the Gulf, on a tiny island which is called a key. And this is not a good island to live on. It is owned by one family, the Eastbournes, that Edgar finds during the novel have a tragic history. But he only discovers this slowly, because Edgar discoveres that he can draw, and not only can he draw, he is almost possessed to do so.
This part of the book where Edgar lets the paintings come through him, the focus and the opening of himself to it, feels so authentic - this is what an artist does, this is what any creative person does, this is how Stephen himself recovered from his terrible car accident when he was hit by the truck driven by a man who had bent over to dig some food - a steak I believe -for his dog. The truck smashed into Stephen, as we all know, and he almost died. Some of that recovery process is used to excellent service in Duma Key. One of the best things is that Edgar doesn't question opening himself to his art; he does not know what he is painting or why, the pictures just come to him, so he paints them. When he discovers that the figure he is painting is someone he loves, both he and us the reader share in that awful moment of clarity that something dreadful might happen, might be happening, and can it be stopped?
There are genuinely terrifying moments in this book, of which one scene has direct links to a scene in The Shining, but I don't want to say any more. I do know that if I was alone in a house and woke up to find footprints that aren't mine leading to my bedroom door, I would be out of that house so fast there would be a puff of air behind me. Edgar doesn't leave, but I never felt the same about the Big Pink, as he calls the house he stays in, again. I felt dread throughout the rest of the novel that he was staying there still. It was like the horror was drawing nearer to him, only he couldn't quite grasp it, but we the reader can.
At the end of the book, when he could have so easily gone for the gross-out, King doesn't. And so I can genuinely say the ending is as effective as any he's done. This book is almost as good as The Shining. It has the same slow build of wrongness, the same slow build that terror is coming but we (and the characters) don't know where from, and of good people caught in a spiral that they can't get away from. When the evil is revealed, it's not a cop-out as say some of Stephen's middle books have had; the characters here have a choice of action, have a choice to fix it, and they try. They are heroes. This is like The Stand mixed with The Shining. Without the grand scale of The Stand, and without the absolute terror of Danny alone with his gift in that terrible hotel. For me, The Shining is one of the scariest novels of all time. Duma Key is not as scary as that, but it comes a very good second in Stephen King's books for me. It does not have as many scary moments as The Shining, but it shares some of the same themes: isolation, a gift one can't control, an old evil that needs to be contained, and good friends that help the hero. One of the main differences is that this is an adult novel, with the characters of varying ages, with adult themes of love, and loss, and death. Like Bag of Bones (the last Stephen King novel I read), the characters are thoughtful, and look backwards and forwards to try to explain what happens, but they do not have all the answers.
I like this restrained ghost-story telling. And don't get me wrong; there is plenty of death, and gruesomeness in Duma Key, but it fits into the story. And the ending is good, very satisfying. Indeed, when I closed the book late last night, I wanted more of Edgar Freemantle. I wanted to know what his life was like, the adventures he had, what he thought about things. I genuinely like him. And that is some achievement in any book, never mind a horror book.
This is a good horror novel, and one I can happily recommend as a scary read. 4.5 /5, because I would have liked more spookiness...
This is my first book read for Carl's RIP IV. I hope the others are as good. I'm just sad it took me a year after buying Duma Key to read it!
Today's Bluenose Excerpt:
"A dwelling known as Shelburne House was erected at the time of the Loyalists but it was torn down many years ago. The sound of the front door opening and of an officer's sword clanking as he ascended the stairs was heard at times, but only by certain people.
"One time a lady who had never been in the town before was a supper guest at Shelburne House and, during the evening, she heard this same mysterious interruption. When her husband called for her later she asked if the house was supposed to be haunted. He asked her whatever made her think such a thing? 'What did you hear?' he said.
" ' I heard the front door open and it was followed by the clank of a sword on the stairway, ' she said.
" ' I can't say you imagined it,' her husband said, 'for it's been heard before.' Nobody knows the reason for it, or whether this was a restless ghost or a scene re-enacted from the past. "
And as a treat, since I have missed a few days posting, here is another ghost story:
When Annapolis Royal was taken over by the English in 1710 a number of the people who came also brought slaves with them. Some of their descendants are there to this day....I visited one of the older women one day with the following result.
"When I was first married I lived in a house on the left hand side of the Granville road above the railway tracks. One day I was in my kitchen when I looked up and saw a man standing in the doorway with a chain around one leg and a dog sniffing at his heels, and I could hear the sound of the dog sniffing. That seemed so strange to me. I wasn't frightened, but I must have moved because suddenly they disappeared and I have never seen them since. He must have been trying to lift the wooden latch to come in. I didn't like to say anything about it to anybody until one day the rector's wife came to call. I thought she would laugh at me but I wanted to tell her and I did. But she didn't laugh. She knew the history of the houses in Annapolis and she said that years ago that house had belonged to a general and that he was known to have had a slave who was chained by the leg."