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Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
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Apr 27, 2011

it was amazing

review by Megsly

*Warning: possible spoilers ahead.*

First off, I'm an avid reader of all things Stephen King. I love him. I worship his words and fall in love with his imagery. The man can command language in such a way that a 20 page short story sucks me in, drags me away from real life, and leaves me so satisfied that I crave a cigarette to bring me down from my high. So, let's just say that when my dad handed me King's newest book-a collection of short stories-called Full Dark, No Stars, I may have squealed like a little girl being handed a lollipop or a kitten. Don't judge me.
What is Full Dark, No Stars? In typical Stephen King fashion, it's genius. This book is a collection of four short stories, the longest being approximately 130 pages, and the shortest being a little over 30 pages. Each one is riveting, and in true Steven King fashion, he shows us that he needs no minimal amount of pages to weave a tale of intrigue and mystery. Each story is different, yet they have one key similarity in that they address human nature. No, this isn't a collection of stories about the paranormal. It's a collection of stories that ask, "What if?" The lack of paranormal as a key ingredient doesn't make them any less supernatural, however.

The first story in this short collection is the longest; 1922 is a confessional letter from Wilfred Leland James, written in a dingy hotel room in the year of 1930. "I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger..." The stranger Wilfred refers to is brought to life the day he murders his wife in the spring of 1922 and throws her body down the well. The stranger Wilfred references, is awoken when he asks that his son help him and the two start a journey down a path of darkness that many a good man would never even contemplate treading. Wilfred James is a country man. He loves the land, he loves working the land and supporting himself. His wife, Arlette, despises the land. She fancies herself a city gal, and longs to open a dress shop in the bustling metropolis of Omaha. When her father dies and leaves her a 100 acre parcel of land, Arlette demands they sell it. Of course, Wilfred says no and when Arlette declares that she'd rather divorce and leave him, and announces that she'll be selling her land to the slaughter house for a hog farm regardless of Wilfred's decision, her husband must find a way to stop her. The only possible way he can find is to kill her, so late one night after much deliberation, Wilfred convinces his son Hank (well, Henry, but in an effort to deny his mother the boy demands to be called Hank) to help him. A few hours and a helluva lot of blood later, Hank and Wilfred dump Arlette's body into an old dried up well for the rats to clean up.

They think this is the end of it, all they must do is wait out the years until they can legally declare Arlette dead (they're going to pretend she up and left Wilfred in a fit and hope no one questions them about it to much.) Wilfred is happy that he no longer has to worry over blood and hog guts poisoning the stream that waters his cows and Hank is content that he no longer has to worry about his mother taking him away from their small town and away from the girl he loves. What they didn't count on were the changes killing Arlette would bring on themselves. Images of Arlette's face haunt Wilfred in his dreams, and when trying to cover up the body in the well one evening, he glimpses her face. Rats rove around within her body, gnawing at her face and hands. Her face is gashed open from where Wilfred missed in his attempt to slit her throat, and she looks as if she's grinning at him, her body wiggling under the mass of rats devouring it. And then, as Hank begins to grow solemn and angry, Wilfred begins seeing the rats everywhere he goes. He hears Arlette's voice taunting him, telling him he couldn't even kill her right. One thing leads to another, and a string of bad luck resulting from his decision brings down Wilfred's happy life, crashing his world around him. His loses everything in the end, but that isn't what is so horrifying about this story. What is horrifying is watching this man's world crumble, to see him haunted by his choices to the point where not only he destroys his own life, but he destroys the lives of many others he cared about. 1922 is a solemn story, a story that is easy to relate to, and hard to imagine all at once, but it was one of the least disturbing stories in Full Dark, No Stars.

The second story in Full Dark, No Stars is Big Driver, a story about Tess who is a popular author of the murder/mystery series The Willow Grove Knitting Society. Tess, at the last minute, agrees to fill in for a local library who is missing their author for Author Fridays, and drives an hour down the interstate to have tea and host a book signing. The engagement goes well, and as Tess is leaving she takes directions for a short cut from the librarian, Romana. Little does she know that those directions are going to lead her directly into a situation from her worst nightmares. After finding herself first stranded with a flat tire on a nearly empty road a few miles from town, Tess is brutally raped, strangled, beaten and left for dead in a drainage ditch. Her attacker, a gigantic man who'd stopped on the pretense of helping her change her tire, has thrown her into a pipe with several other bodies. Somehow, Tess finds the strength to hold on and crawl out of the pipe long after he's gone. Shock and horror at what has happened immediately grip her, but once again, in an effort to address the "What if's?" of human nature, King has her do the totally unexpected. Internally, Tess grapples over whether or not to go to the police. She feels she owes those who never made it out of the drain pipe and owes it to his future victims to do something about it, and yet she faces the fear of the public learning the truth of her violation. Eventually, she decides she doesn't want to go to the police and instead takes matters into her own hands. A little research leads her to the discovery that the very woman who'd she had spent the afternoon with discussing books, the very woman who'd suggested the short cut to her, was the mother to the man who'd raped her. Rage takes over Tess's mind at this point, and all signs of rationality leave her. She has but one goal at this point, and that is revenge. What Tess does to inact her revenge, and the discoveries she makes along the way, really bothered me. I think that this story hit me the hardest out of the four. I can relate to the rage the main character feels when she's assaulted, but I can't foresee myself ever doing what she does. Also, what is revealed about the individuals who planned this assault on her is highly disturbing because in this world, there really are people like this in our world. King did an excellent job of addressing the "What if's" of human nature in this story, and though it disturbs me the most out of the collection, it was probably my favorite from the four.

The third story from Full Dark, No Stars is called Fair Extension. It's the only story that has a direct link to the supernatural. Though the other three stories hint at hauntings, ghostly presences, and other paranormal entities, this one is the only one who introduces a purely paranormal character. In Fair Extension, we meet Dave Streeter, a man with a loving wife and two great kids, but a terminal case of cancer. He's not expected to live long, and that news doesn't sit well with him at all. Driving around one afternoon, Streeter, who's been taking chemotherapy, has to pull over the puke, and is incidentally introduced to Fair Extension, a small stand on the side of the road manned by a plump man named George Elvid. Elvid doesn't beat around the bush when Streeter asks him what he's selling. "I sell extensions, Mr. Streeter...if you were a young woman with a love for shopping, I'd offer you a credit extension. If you were a man with a small penis-genetics can be so cruel-I'd offer you dick extension," Elvid tells Streeter proudly. Elvid deals in all kinds of extensions, for a price. Height extensions, hair extensions, love extensions, time extensions, even a reality extension for a painter who was slipping into paranoid schizophrenia. His offer to Streeter? A life extension. His price? Simple, a replacement. All Streeter has to do for a guaranteed 15-20 years (possibly more) of cancer free living, is give him someone else to misplace the bad fortune on. Elvid is even kind enough to give Streeter a week long test trial to see if he likes being cancer free. It's not hard to deduce who or what Streeter is making a deal with when he returns a week later with a pill belonging to his best friend and hands it over without a second's hesitation to Elvid. That tiny pill is all it costs Streeter to become cancer free, and in exchange, he is rewarded for the jealousy of his life and is given a front row seat to watch his best friend's grand luck take a swing for the worst and his life crumble around him. This story was fairly difficult to read, though it only spanned 30 pages. If you were promised nothing but the best of luck and the chance to live your life completely cancer free in exchange for someone else's good fortune, what would you do?

The fourth story is actually based on real events. King based it on the events surrounding Mr. Dennis Rader, a serial killer known as the BTK Strangler (Blind, Torture, Kill) who murdered 10 people from 1974 to 1991 around Wichita, Kansas. In actuality, however, the story isn't based so much on Mr. Rader as it is based on his wife, Paula Dietz. In A Good Marriage, human nature is tested to the limit. If you had been married to a man for 25 years who was the epitome of a good husband: kind, loving, attentive, what would you do if you discovered he harbored a secret far more horrifying than anything you could conceive? Far worst than adultery or gambling or even drug use? What if you found out after 25 years of marriage that your husband was a serial rapist/murderer? In A Good Marriage, Darcy accidentally stumbles across just that. In the quest for a pack of batteries for the television remote, Darcy stumbles over a box in the garage. A box that contains more than just magazines and dirty pictures. I'd love to expound more about what happens in this story, but that would be giving away too much. I find myself able to completely relate to Darcy in this story however, because who can honestly say what they would do if they were in her shoes? Would they react the same way she does?

As usual, King's writing is phenomenal. His command of written language is flawless and his ability to put himself into his characters as he's writing is beyond anything I can even comprehend. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though parts of it bothered me deeply. As I do with all King novels, I will be re-reading this one in the future, and enjoying each satisfying twist and turn as much as I did the first time I read it. I definitely recommend this as reading to anyone who enjoys a good horror story!
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