There’s never a shortage of Stephen King (or recently, some terrific Richard Bachman) reviews here in Cannonball land. While I definitely consider myself a huge King fan, I have to admit that his “collected novellas” are my least favorite of his many offerings. I love me some short story collections (Night Shift! Skeleton Crew!), I can’t get enough of his huge mega-novels (The Stand! 11/22/63!), and I obsess over anything Dark Tower related. But I can honestly say that the majority of his short novels (the Four Past Midnight and Hearts in Atlantis collections comes to mind) are not on the top of any sort of list for me.
So I was happy to find that King’s most recent venture into novella territory was a good one. Full Dark, No Stars is made up of four short novels (or, long stories): 1922, Big Driver, Fair Extension, and A Good Marriage.
1922, my least favorite of the four, is the story of Wilfred, a man in 1920s Nebraska, who decides to murder his wife (with the help of his son, Henry) in order to settle a land dispute. Wilfred is then haunted by the idea that his wife might not be quite as dead as he thought she was, and becomes obsessed. Meanwhile, Henry gets the neighbor’s daughter pregnant, and they take off on a crime spree (a la Bonnie and Clyde) across the midwest. An interesting tale, but I could have done without the many, many rats that appear throughout the story.
Big Driver, on the other hand, was a nice departure for King. It tells the story of Tess, a popular mystery writer, who takes a short-cut home from local speaking engagement and is brutally raped and beaten when her car is disabled. Tess escapes, but soon realizes that she is not the only victim of this monster of a man. As she slowly puts together the pieces of her attack, she creates her plan for vengeance. King usually botches narrative from the female perspective, but I thought this was one of his better offerings.
Fair Extension reminded me quite a bit of the old Richard Bachman book, Thinner. Dave is a dying man, quickly weakening from a terrible form of cancer that is eating away at him. One day while out driving, he comes upon a man named George Elvid who claims that he can promise Dave 15 more years of a healthy life if he pays 15% of his salary every year, AND if he promises to transfer his problems to someone else. Dave quickly decides to hand all of his troubles off to his “best friend” Tom, who appears to have the perfect life. As the story progresses, we see the fortunes that occur in Dave’s life and the many tragedies that affect Tom and his family. It gets a bit ridiculous after a while, but I guess that’s what you get when you do business with Mr Elvid.
The final story, A Good Marriage, tells the story of Darcy, wife to an accountant named Bob, who finds out that her ordinary marriage is anything but. Another tale from the female perspective, but this one is less successful, mostly because Bob and Bob’s alter ego “BP” are a bit too much, even for King.
King will never find the same literary success with the short novel format that he had with something like Different Seasons, but I still appreciate his attempt to write all different sorts of fiction (and even non-fiction).