After seeing Stephen King a few weeks ago, Hobgoblin suggested that I read one of his books. This thought hadn’t occurred to me because horror is not my genre at all, but Hobgoblin and other people have assured me that King writes more than just horror and that a lot of his books are more about psychology than anything else. So I picked up his latest book Full Dark, No Stars (although not one of the two copies we got signed!). I ended up liking it quite a bit. The book has three novellas and one short story, and yes, there was violence in each one, but the stories were more about character and psychology, just as people had promised.
The first novella was good — gripping and hard to put down. But it was a complicated reading experience that reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley in the way both books have psychotic narrators who commit atrocious crimes. In King’s story, it’s a first-person narrator, and in Highsmith’s it’s a third person narrator who stays so close to Tom Ripley’s consciousness that I keep forgetting it’s not actually in first person. In both cases, I got so wrapped up in the stories and identified with the narrators to such an extent that I started feeling obscurely guilty, as though I were the one who had committed the crimes. I had to remind myself that no, there was nothing I needed to worry about, no fear that anyone would come and arrest me for the horrible thing I did.
I started the second novella relieved that the mood was lighter, at least initially. That story is about a semi-famous cozy mystery writer who is asked to do a reading for a literary society when Janet Evanovich cancels on them. But then on her way home she gets attacked and raped, and I began to worry about what I’d gotten myself into by reading this book. The first story was about a man murdering his wife, and then here was another story about violence toward women, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about it anymore. But I kept on and realized that King wasn’t simply using violence toward women as a plot device, but was making a point of exploring its cultural meaning. The cozy mystery writer, Tess, spends a long time thinking about how she is going to deal with the attack, and a big part of her worry concerns what the public will make of it, since inevitably the press will seize on the story. She is a bit of a public figure, after all. She imagines someone insinuating that she invited the attack somehow, and she delays calling the police. She is agonizingly alone, a victim another time over, since she knows how hostile the world can be toward rape victims. I won’t give away the rest of the story, but I’ll just say it’s satisfying and Tess ends up with a little bit of the support she deserves.
Next was the short story, which was good but didn’t quite fit with the rest of the book. And finally, the third novella once again takes up violence toward women and once again handles it well. Reading about the violence in all four pieces was uncomfortable at times, but once I figured out that King was exploring violence as an idea, I began to enjoy the reading more. I have to say this is not what I expected, to read Stephen King for the ideas. But I think I’ve been unfair to him. I can’t say I’ll read him again very soon, since even with the psychological focus, violence and horror really aren’t my things. But I’m much more interested in him than I was before, and that’s a good thing.