Culture At Large

Stephen King and the limits of darkness

Keith Johnson

Stephen King served up another book last November: "Full Dark, No Stars." It hit the New York Times Best Sellers list at #2 and now rests, weeks later, at a lowly #29. Has King lost his touch? Has he nothing to surprise us with anymore? Does it, or he, even matter?

Writing about Stephen King is, for me, a bit of a conundrum. At best he's been a guilty pleasure, at worst a guilty waste of time. When I started reading King many (many) years ago - he’s been writing for 40 now - I found myself drawn to, believe it or not, his style of writing. Now note, please, that I said style, not word usage. I found his writing to be almost a verbal roller coaster ride, with a fast pace, speedy delivery and sharp, unexpected turns. It was also, almost always, a scary ride. And at the end, you would pull in next to the finish gate and walk away catching your breath.

Is it worth getting on the King roller coaster to begin with?

Over the years, I have often wondered if God uses even Stephen King to deliver a message to his readers. I have occasionally found what I believe are glimpses of hope ... and light. Stories such as "The Stand," "Desperation" and "The Green Mile" have shown that man’s best hope lies beyond himself, in a God that controls what man cannot. Even in most other King books, evil is evil and good is good and the line is tightly drawn. There are heroes and villains, oft times supernatural, but they are what they are. No guesswork.

Now we have "Full Dark, No Stars" on the shelves and the times they are a changin’. This time he has written four, for the most part, lengthy short stories; stories of murder and madness, rape and revenge, sadism and secrets and deals with the devil. And the good/evil formula has gone on a long extended vacation.

There are no subtleties here. The profanity, crudeness and gore (hereafter referred to as pc&g) come in buckets. The message, if any, is that humans can easily commit evil acts, but their intentions are good. And if the intention is good, the evil is justified.

I sincerely don’t think King himself believes this, but his characters never have second thoughts. Stir in the above mentioned pc&g and you have a mess so bad that you wonder why he felt compelled to release all of them together in one volume, if at all. By the time I finished the book I felt a bit like an ambulance chaser wanting to view the wreck for the sake of the carnage.

My advice is to listen to the police officer stationed at the scene. Nothing to see here … move along, move along. I realize that some people like to use a negative review as a reason to see the carnage for themselves. Don’t, please don’t, waste your time. Mine was.

As a bit of a side note, a few days ago my library copy of the book became due and I’m miserly enough not to want to pay even a minimal fine. I expected that there was a waiting list for this Stephen King book. There always is. I decided to just commit the two keystrokes to apply for a renewal anyway and was amazed that no one was waiting.

So now I wonder ... is the King dead? Did he push the wrong buttons this time? Have we had enough of the rough stuff? Because this latest work of King is most definitely dark - and deserves no stars.

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, Books