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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?


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1-1 - Book Review: NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPESStephen King
Viking / Signet

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is Stephen King’s third collection short stories released during his career (both Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight being collections of novellas than short stories, if you want to argue the point), originally in 1993. This was the period in my life where I was denouncing any kind of reading of fiction as “not what a good Christian does”, and having gotten rid of my rather extensive Stephen King collection along with the rest of my fiction literature that I deemed not worthy my time anymore the summer prior, when this one was published, I pretty much ignored its existence for a good decade, until I got back into enjoying fiction without that pesky self-acquired guilt that comes with self-righteous hoop-jumping. Long story. In any case, I came across a hardcover copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes for a couple of bucks at a local Goodwill one early Fall afternoon in 2005, and dug into this rather massive tome not too long after that. And here’s my blow-by-blow of the thing:

“Dolan’s Cadillac”
A widower gets revenge on the mob boss that had his wife killed…it’s rather cathartic for him, really…

“The End of the Whole Mess”
A scientists discovers a chemical that reduces aggressive tendencies in people; only, too late after the fact, do they realize that it does the job too well…

“Suffer the Little Children”
A third grade teacher begins to suspect that the phrase “little monsters” may be less figurative than she thought…

“The Night Flier”
A reporter is chasing down a serial killer who thinks he’s a vampire…because vampires don’t really exist, right?

A child abductor for human trafficking abducts the wrong kid…let’s just leave it at that…

“It Grows on You”
An old house in the town of Castle Rock seems to be taking on home upgrades all by itself…

“Chattery Teeth”
A guy buys a pair of novelty wind-up walking teeth and a hitchhiker, then proceeds to have a very bad, very weird rest of the day…

A hotel maid has an encounter with an eccentric writer…then something weird happens…

“The Moving Finger”
A Jeopardy! enthusiast discovers a human finger poking its way out of the drain in his bathroom sink. Wackiness ensues.

A recording studio exec discovers that the pair of sneakers he’s been seeing in the adjacent stall in the work restroom belong to the ghost of a drug dealer killed by the studio exec’s boss. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”
A couple get lost driving around Oregon, and happen upon a town called Rock And Roll Heaven, which may be a bit more that just an eccentric town name.

“Home Delivery”
A young and pregnant widow lives on a small remote island called Gennesault–“Jenny” for short–when an alien thing orbiting Earth at the South Pole causes all the dead to reanimate and attack the living. Again, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

“Rainy Season”
An out-of-town couple rent a summer vacation house, and discover that it probably wasn’t a very good idea.

“My Pretty Pony”

An elderly man decides to give his grandson the gift of a pocket watch and an existentialist lecture, in that order. Fans of the precursor of the My Little Pony toy line will be sorely disappointed.

“Sorry, Right Number”
Originally a teleplay written for an episode of the Tales From The Darkside television series, this is the script form which tells the tale of a lady who uses a phone to talk to her long-dead husband years ago on the night of his death.

“The Ten O’Clock People”
A smoker tries to quit his habit, and because of that chemical imbalance has a They Live! experience…

“Crouch End”
Two London police officers discuss a case where an American woman’s husband disappeared one night, when the town turned into a Lovecraftian nightmare.

“The House on Maple Street”
Four children arrive back after Summer vacation to discover that their house is slowly turning into some sort of space ship. They then decide to use this to deal with their tyrannical stepfather. As one would do.

“The Fifth Quarter”
More of a hard-boiled crime story, written and published under the pen name John Swithen in the 1970s, this is the story of a crook getting revenge on the death of his friend after a botched caper.

“The Doctor’s Case”
A Sherlock Holmes mystery written for the 1987 collection The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this one finds the legendary detective’s investigation into the murder of a sadistic British lord waylayed by a bunch of cats.

“Umney’s Last Case”
A 1930s Raymond Chandler-style private investigator has a very, very bad day.

“Head Down”
This is a non-fiction essay about Stephen King’s son Owen’s little league baseball team.

“Brooklyn August”
Another baseball-themed piece, this one a poem that waxes nostalgic for the so-called American national pastime.

“The Beggar and the Diamond”
Kind of a re-telling of an old Hindu parable, a beggar is kind of down about his situation in life, when he happens upon a shiny object that changes his life.

Overall, Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a rather decent collection. It showcases King’s ability to write beyond the label of “horror fiction”; and while that dark undertone of personality is always there, it just serves as a flavoring for the stories, no matter what kind is being written about. Fortunately, for all of you dark fantasy horror types, the stories are mostly of that variety. Maybe pick up a good mass market paperback of this and enjoy.