Scrolls Review – Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (ISBN 978-1-444-71254-4)

Full Dark, No Stars puts us firmly back into Stephen King’s everyday America where the most heinous of crimes happen to the most ordinary of people. Split into four individual stories, King takes us into some very personal perspectives of some very dark deeds.

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1922 is the confession of Wilfred Leyland James, a Nebraskan farmer who murders Arlette, his wife of fifteen years, to preserve his way of life just before the Great Depression hits America. Having made his son Hank complicit in her murder, Wilfred is tortured both mentally and emotionally by the aftermath of his crime all for the sake of 100 acres of land his wife wanted to sell up.
Big Driver brings us back to the modern day with a bang, well actually a crash, when author Tess takes a shortcut she’ll never forget. Raped and left for dead in an abandoned back road shack, Big Driver is the story of Tess’ revenge on her rapist and the journey she takes to get there.
Fair Extension is a new take on an old tale. At an isolated vendor’s stand on the extension road behind Derry County Airport, cancer riddled Harry does a deal with the devil that sees him gain whilst his friend suffers.
– Finally, A Good Marriage introduces us to Darcy, long time wife to Bob and mother of two. Her humdrum life is rocked by the discovery of some extremely specialist magazines in Bob’s garage (and we’re not just talking Razzle or Fiesta here) which leads Darcy down a path of discovery that is as much about the extremes she will go to in order to protect her family as Bob’s disturbing double life.

Although extreme examples, these four stories are about the journeys we take when circumstances are thrust upon us – though in the case of Wilfred and Harry they did a lot of the thrusting themselves. The stories are as much about the change in each person as it is about the horrors they commit, witness or perpetrate and this is where King’s style of writing comes to the fore. Predominantly first person narrative, we are constantly in the mind of the protagonists. King’s trademark useage of highly believable characters with true motivations, in every-day settings lend these stories a stark realism which captivates the reader utterly.
For those looking for blood and guts, 1922 is the goriest of the quartet, with vindictive rats and some vivid descriptions of the decay of Arlette’s corpse as

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she is eaten by vermin down the farm well. It may be a little strong for those more accustomed to the Twilight style of horror. I quite like these descriptive pieces but, before you mark me as a sadist, it is the psychological affect on Hank and the break up of his relationship with his father that fuels this story for me more than the murder itself.
Fair Extension is the weakest of the stories being more of descriptive of changes to the life of Harry’s friend and his family than a fully fledged story but at twenty-seven pages it can afford to do this and I still found myself sitting at the station to finish the last few pages before continuing my journey.

My only criticism of the tales lies with both Big Driver and A Good Marriage. They are both great stories about women fighting back, forced to decide between sweeping things under the carpet or taking extreme actions (something we have seen before in Rose Madder and Insomnia) but the endings of both almost seem to be there to exonerate the women for the actions they take. Personally I would have liked to have both stories end before the final scene, where deeds have been done and no closure is given.

At times the writing is uncomfortable to read but I get the sense that this is exactly what King is trying to achieve and he says as much in a thoughtful afterword. There’s no night light to keep away the boogie man here; as the title says Full Dark, No Stars. So, although not quite up there with some of his earlier works (Different Seasons springs to mind) I would recommend this book to anyone who is not afraid of the dark.

4 out of 5
GS Reviewer: Phil Ambler

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