Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Duma Key

by Stephen King

Rather than talk about the plot of King's latest novel (the owner of a construction company loses his arm in a horrific on-site accident, and has both medical and supernatural difficulties adjusting to his new life), I'd like to talk about the way it feels.

The novel's beginning is both brutally efficient at changing the status quo by destroying a man's life, and contemplative - it's interested in and observes the ideas of healing, and of establishing a new routine. It takes about a hundred pages to deal with this setup, and then the focus clearly shifts into the main character's new life, his new routine, meeting new people, and slowly ramping up the supernatural elements. From there, it's the steady accumulation of back story, placing tension on old and new friends, and a rising animosity (from the supernatural threat.

Duma Key is definitely a companion piece to Bag of Bones - almost an echo of it in some ways. The two stories both deal with grief, relocating, and a generational mystery - but Duma Key feels looser, more relaxed, and King is diving right into an exploration of the creative process (this time painting, rather than writing) rather than exploring the idea of writer's block. The threat here is also far more epic than in Bag of Bones. Its reach is (theoretically) global, and the sense of power and evil that King manages to create at times approaches the One Ring.

The writing contains King's standard tricks - end of chapter foreshadowing, italicised inner voices speaking in sinister fragments, wealthy protagonists, and Outsiders versus the White (although not referred to by those names). These things have been done many times before, but they're still effective. What's even more effective is his gift of creating characters you care about - which leads to a great 40 pages towards the end of the story that are so desperate and awful, so unafraid to truly screw with the characters you care about, that is easily matches Bag of Bones' concluding experiment in point-of-view for horror.

Recommended - and it makes me wonder if he's gearing up to write stories that are completely non-supernatural, non-thrillers. A fulfilment of the "modern Dickens" label that some publishers and reviewers have been applying to him ever since the Green Mile.
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