Full Dark, No Stars
King of horror Stephen King serves up a grimly captivating collection of tales with his usual skill.
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Henry, sullen and despondent, gets his girlfriend pregnant and, eventually, steals her away from the Catholic Home for Girls in Omaha. From there, the two young lovers embark on a Bonnie and Clyde-style crime spree, a doomed odyssey of petty theft that morphs into still more killing.Skip to next paragraph
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That leaves Wilf alone to fend off visits from a cagey sheriff and a canny lawyer hoping to acquire the land Arlette James was negotiating to sell when she disappeared. Wilf often finds himself alone on his desolate, doomed farm with little to do but think about how many more lives have been destroyed since the murder.
King is happy to pile on to what is already a staggering nightmare, adding in illusion, delusion, and the odd savage rat bite for good measure.
It is with relief that the reader shifts from this chugging, blood-spattered finale into “Big Driver,” a story about a storyteller in peril (a motif re-visited by King many times, most memorably with his earlier novel – and its later film version, with an Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates – the stunner “Misery”). Short-lived relief, that is.
Before the fireworks begin, King does what he does best: He sets up an ordinary character in ordinary contemporary American surroundings for a hellish ride into traumatic, extraordinary events.
Tess is in her mid-30s, churning out Willow Grove Knitting Society novels that earn respectable sales, if not the blockbuster status of those written by Janet Evanovich. Think Jan Karon meets Alexander McCall Smith.
To ensure a retirement cushion, she knocks off a dozen paid speeches and book-signings per year, all of them within an easy drive of her New England home.
An invitation for just such an appearance pops up at the last minute, and Tess accepts with delighted aplomb. All goes well, until the president of Books & Brown Baggers – a mannish 60-year-old named Ramona who extended the author’s invitation – suggests Tess take a shortcut home.
What follows is harrowing enough: flat tire, hulking helper-turned-attacker, Tess left for dead. But the lead-in and aftermath are what cement the horrors with the reader’s dread, driven by the commonality of Tess’s thoughts and mental tics.
She calls her GPS Tom (it is, after all, a Tomtom) and juxtaposes scenes from “Deliverance” and “Wait Until Dark” with the real-life crisis she finds herself in. Panic and shock commingle with an old 7-Up slogan (“You Like It. It Likes You”) as Tess reels from rape and violence. The horrible, unspeakable devastation hits even harder amid mundane concerns: Tess wonders about her cat Fritzy, ponders the fact that an hour or so earlier she had been speaking to a roomful of happy people – and then jolts back to the present.