book-review_-dark-halfStephen King
Viking Press
1989

“You’re dead, George. You just don’t have the sense to lie down.”

When Thad Beaumont wakes to the nightmare of George Stark, he hears birds, thousands of them, all cheeping and twittering at the same time, and with the sound comes a presentiment full of memory and foreboding: The sparrows are flying again. Thad Beaumont is a writer, and for a dozen years he secretly published novels under the name of “George Stark” because he was no longer able to write under his own name. He even invented a slightly sinister author biography to satisfy the many fans of Stark’s violent bestsellers. But Thad is a healthier and happier man now, the father of infant twins, and starting to write as himself again. He no longer needs George Stark, and in fact has a good reason to lay Stark to rest. So, with nationwide publicity, a bit of guilt, and a good deal of relief, the pseudonym is retired. In the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, where Thad and Liz keep a summer home, Sheriff Alan Pangborn ponders the brutal roadside murder of a man named Homer Gamache. When Homer’s pick-up truck is found, the bloody fingerprints of the perpetrator are all over it. They match Thad Beaumont’s exactly. Armed with evidence, Pangborn pays the Beaumonts a visit, and suddenly he too is thrust into a dream so bizarre that neither criminal science nor his own sharp mind can make sense of it. At the center of the nightmare is the devastating figure of George Stark, Thad Beaumont’s dark half–impossibly alive and relentlessly on the loose–a killing machine that destroys everyone on the path that leads to the man who created him. As Stark approaches, as Thad and Liz contend with the escalating horror and implacable threat of his existence and Thad reaches deep inside his own mind to mount a defense, forces gather in the air above Castle Lake, outriders of the dead to the land of the living….To whom do they belong?

After a two-year hiatus in which he was dealing with his addictions and getting his personal life back in order, Stephen King wrote and released one of my all-time favorite novels of his career in late 1989. I remember reading the synopsis and review of this book in the Omaha World Herald that year, and my persistent requesting of the book for either a birthday or Christmas present (both fell in the same month, a couple of weeks apart). Instead of the book, however, I received a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter, and the 1989-1990 Publishers Guide. Eh, at least my parents were aware of my writing aspirations. If that doesn’t establish my writing geek cred, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the next year, when The Dark Half was released in the far more affordable Mass Market Paperback edition when I was able to get around to finally reading it. The general concept of an alter ego coming to life and wreaking havoc was heady enough to resonate with me up to finally cracking open the book and reading the story within. And when I did, it only took me a good five or six collective hours to consume this thing.

Seriously, I began reading it before calling it a night one evening, and then suddenly I discovered it was well past the midnight hour, and I had to get up to go to school later that morning. I took it to school with me, where I pretty much finished it up in the study hall period. I wasn’t planning on doing that; it just so happened that the story itself flowed so naturally and was engaging to the point of where I seriously got lost in it, having to pull away just to interact with the real world.

On its own, The Dark Half is a hard-boiled supernatural noir thriller that grabs you by the no-nos and yanks hard and relentlessly. Having found more success at writing paperback thrillers under a pseudonym rather than his more serious literary output under his real name, an author decides to symbolically put to death this alter ego of his after word gets out that he was the man behind all those potboilers. But, it seems you can’t keep a good pen name down, as the more-than-slightly-miffed dark half (see what I did there?) crawls out of his grave, and begins killing everyone associated with the writer in rather grizzly ways.

Really, though, the metaphorical concept of putting to rest your past and moving on, hoping it won’t try and come back from the dead and wreak havoc in your life is a strong one. Considering The Dark Half was written after a two-year hiatus wherein Stephen King was kicking his drug habit and getting sober before starting to write again, the underlying message is rather evident. Not that I’m trying to read into this, but it has been postulated by the author himself.

Compared to what was released a few years prior, The Dark Half is much more focused, much like a laser honed to cut through the skin, thus proving that sober and focused Stephen King is much, much better than fueled by cocaine Stephen King. The story is dark, streamlined, and doesn’t take the easy way out with the ending. The Dark Half is, without a doubt, my favorite Stephen King novel to date.

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