Howard's Reviews > Duma Key

Duma Key by Stephen King
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's review
Apr 14, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: never-finished-comma-sucked

Awful. Cloyingly sentimental, forcedly folksy, sloppily written. At first I was hoping that he was doing this on purpose, using the unrealistic dialogue and the instant bonding of the characters to turn it around on us, make us look back and see it as creepy eventually, but it's just bad writing. The characters don't act like people, they act like characters in a Stephen King novel. When they develop psychic powers, nobody even blinks, and everybody immediately understands how they work...because these are the things that would happen in a Stephen King novel.

To an extent he's earned a lot of leeway, and he's still a great natural storyteller, so there's nothing preventing you from reading it; it's not the kind of awful where you can't force yourself to read another page. (Thus two stars.) But it's just poor work on all sorts of levels.

Here's something that particularly bothered me. Maybe it's quibbling, but an editor should have caught this, if not the author. The first person narrator uses the word "febrile" on page 248; first time it's appeared in the book. On page 249, another character uses it in dialogue.

It's an uncommon enough word that the reader notices (especially since it's out of character for the regular-guy narrator). If it were ultimately going to be revealed that it's all taking place in the narrator's head, it would be a good, if sort of obvious clue, but because it isn't, it's just a reminder that it's all taking place in the author's head. Which, you know, it's sort of his job to avoid.

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03/01 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Clackamas (new)

Clackamas I love that you pick up on the little things like the use of a word that's uncommon and out of character by more than one person.

King prides himself on knowing his characters inside and out as if they were really people, so I'm surprised that he let that by. I'm not shocked that his editor let it go though. I've gotten the feeling for years that they don't even bother editing his work anymore.

It's like when you have an employee who you know usually does good work, you just stop doing more of a cursory check on them because more than that feels like a waste of time.

Howard I could really easily be wrong about this, but it's my understanding that he's had a personal editor all these years, a literary agent named Chuck Verrill; I don't know that he's edited at all after that in-house.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, and there's no reason for it to go wrong, but it seems to me that it's like--to use a simile appropriate to the book--using a building inspector who's on your staff rather than an independent inspector. There's going to be a tendency to want to please the person who signs the checks. So, yeah, maybe he isn't really being edited. Again, he's earned it, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

message 3: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Thank you. This is exactly how I felt about this book. I read it with high hopes because it was King but I thought it was some of his sloppiest writing. When I was slogged down in the middle, I looked online for reviews, found they were all favorable and just went back to reading, thinking I was missing something...but no. It was just bad.

Kasia I don't get the sloppy comment at all, I loved it.

Jess Your review really sums the book up well! I gave it another star because there were a few parts that really scared me -- one part in particular actually gave me real goosebumps. Like you, I found the dialogue forced, sentimental and contrived. Characters seemed to react either way too emotionally to one another's actions, or too numbly. The finale was very silly as well. Overall, I enjoyed the book just for its few good authentic scares, but I found it a bit of a rough slog towards the end. Thank you for yoru review.

message 6: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Howard,
I appreciate your opinion, but I don't think King was trying to create a literary masterpiece. He's a story teller first, and if you let yourself get carried away by the story, amazing things can happen. Maybe this book just didn't "do it for you." That's totally cool. I'm reading Lisey's Story by King right now and it's not the best by any means...Not every novel can be a home run. Curious--which King's DO you like, if any?

Howard Hey, Tom. My favorites are The Stand and Misery, covering both ends of the sprawling to precise spectrum. It and Insomnia (which apparently he didn't much like himself) also stand out for me. Thought Cell was remarkably bad, and would like to say he phoned it in for the pun, but also because that would mean he wasn't trying very hard, but I don't know if that's true. Didn't finish Lisey's Story, which is the only book of his I can say that about--even books like Dreamcatcher and Rose Madder were compelling enough to keep me reading.

But that speaks to the point you raise. I think that Lisey's Story is evidence that he is trying to create literary masterpieces. Bag of Bones, too. He's not just a great storyteller, he's a writer working at his writing. I think he deserves to be taken seriously, and his association with the Tina Brown-period NYer suggests that he wants to be, too.

You're probably right about this particular book; it certainly didn't announce itself as literary, and very possibly, if editing books wasn't my job, maybe I wouldn't have noticed the things that strike me as sloppy. But the particular instance I cite above, about "febrile," I have no way to prove it, but I'd bet that if somebody had brought it to his attention, he would have changed it.

message 8: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Thanks Howard. I wasn't sure how you would take my opinion. Some folks on here get irate when someone disagrees with their reviews. You're a New Yorker though and you're thick skinned, right? Just kidding. Great city. I was there in April and didn't want to leave.

Anyway, I'm pleased that you like some of his work. I really dug The Stand too. King for me is one of those "guilty pleasure" writers I gravitate towards when I just want to be carried away. No one else does it for me like him.

Good call on taking his work seriously. Maybe someday he'll be read in more English classes. That would be interesting. Nice talking to you. Later.


Keith Yeager I know this comment is like...3 yrs late, haha, but I am currently reading Duma Key and find it absolutely fantastic and wanted to give my opinion on your comment, dear sir. First, I do respect your opinion and can see your view about people not really reacting to the psychic phenomena at all. In the real world, people would be freaking the hell out, including the person equipped.However, what King never fails to do, and I mean never, is create flat, un-realistic characters. The characters in the novel are very real, with their very own unique personality. I mean c'mon, Wireman and Ms. Eastlake are great, and Edgar's daughters are very realistic. This is by far not his greatest piece (i think Firestarter was even better) but it is GOOD. Very good, in fact.

Howard Well, glad you're enjoying it. Honestly, I don't remember it well enough to disagree with you anymore, so I'll just go along with you, and say you're right.

Keith Yeager Lol, you should give it another try. I think you'll have a different opinion :)

Carey Smith Oh no these are real people if you have a father like mine.

Glynis Cannot understand your review. For gawds sake two stars. I turn away in disgust.

Howard Wouldn't be the first time I inspired that response. Enjoy your reading.

Lauren I've noticed in not just King's writing, but many other authors'...when a particularly tasty new word gets used, it usually gets used 2-3 times in that same novel. Duma isn't the first or last of Stevie's novels to display this phenomenon.

Glenda Scalise-Castillo Not having read the book yet, shame on me, I do have a small idea to pass over to you, Howard. You say your profession is editing; congratulations for getting paid for reading, I could never be so lucky! Anyway, I was thinking that Mr. King loves to "stick" hints and surprises in both his books and his movies (i.e. his little cameo shots). So maybe his little placement of the unusual word is another of his little hints he likes to give his "good readers". Just a small thought, so now I'm off to find the Kindle version to read and remove my shame (lol).

Howard Interesting idea, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't one of those times. Enjoy the book.

message 18: by Vicki (new) - added it

Vicki G He doesn't get along with his ex-wife, and he kind of gets angry at Tom Riley (who I could swear is a character of the same name in one of his son's books) after drawing that picture. Or painting it.

Lauren Glenda - I like that idea. We can give Stephen and his editors the benefit of the doubt rather than dismiss those words as lazy editing. Perhaps we can test this theory?

message 20: by Stu (new) - rated it 2 stars

Stu Moore I'm a big King fan, but this book was terrible, and Howard is spot-on with the reasons why. With around 50 pages to go I couldn't stand it any more and just read the ending; something I almost never do.

message 21: by Jake (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jake Parent I have read most of SK's books and this I couldn't even finish this one. Howard's review actually gives it more credit than it deserves. The only reason I got past the halfway mark was my certainty that there had to be some kind of satiric element at play. An SK does th he Great Gatsby or something I guess. Then I realized the book was for real. The dull repetition between how great the narrator is (too many newer SK books have MCs who are what I would call perfectly flawed) and him scratching his missing arm. Ugh, and he is supposed to know nothing about art yet references all these obscure are terms and artists and creative processes. Oh and of course he also knows dozens of Spanish phrases. I told myself he probably learned them on jobsite but SK didn't brother to mention anything about it. Like I said, I'm a huge fan of several of his books, but I absolutely think SK needs someone in his writing life to tell him no.

message 22: by JaeZ (new) - added it

JaeZ Not a fan of folksy.

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