Full Dark, No Stars (Stephen King Anthology)

Is it possible to fully know anyone? Even those we love the most? What tips someone over the edge to commit a crime?

“All right I think we’ve been down here in the dark long enough. There’s a whole other world upstairs. Take my hand, Constant Reader, and I’ll be happy to lead you back into the sunshine. I’m happy to go there because I believe most people are essentially good. I know that I am. It’s you I’m not entirely sure of.”

I believe the common theme of all the stories was about getting caught. Full dark – no stars – it’s that time of night when most crimes happen – be they of passion or for money, be it for land or for love. In the end, all crimes will be punished (in one form or another)

Full Dark No Stars Cover
Full Dark No Stars

For a Nebraska farmer, the turning point comes when his wife threatens to sell off the family homestead. A cozy mystery writer plots a savage revenge after a brutal encounter with a stranger. Dave Streeter gets the chance to cure himself from illness – if he agrees to impose misery on an old rival. And Darcy Anderson discovers a box containing her husband’s dark and terrifying secrets – he’s not the man who keeps his nails short and collects coins. And now he’s heading home . 

“If you’re going into a very dark place, then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything. If you don’t want to see, why in God’s name would you dare the dark at all?”

King himself calls these stories “harsh” and indeed, I cannot think of a better word to describe them. Not easy reading by any means, but an excellent, riveting read. I was hooked from start to finish but had a few sleepless nights in the process (as I couldn’t put book down, and when I did it was not easy to get the stories out of my head!). Should you feel compassion for the murderer? See what he or she has done as a way to cut corners? Or feel with the victims – both brutally murdered or incapacitated.

“For,” I said, “a murdered man or woman dies not in God’s time, but in Man’s. He… or she… is cut short before he… or she… can atone for sin, and so all errors must be forgiven. When you think of it that way, all murderers are a gateway for heaven.”

A thought provoking book that delves into the darker side of life. If you have never read a Stephen King book before, I would perhaps suggest you do not start with this, as it is one of the darkest books of his I have read, but die hard King fans should really enjoy it.

1922

It’s a series of 4 short-ish stories, and it starts with ‘1922’ (which has been adapted into a feature-length movie by Netflix)

I couldn’t stop reading this story – just couldn’t put the book down. (Please note, I won’t spoil things, but I will mention things that might sound like spoilers, but they happen really early on in each story, and I won’t spoil the really juicy stuff). 1922 is about a farmer who lives with his awful wife and his young son, and the farmer and the son commit a murder and try to live with that and get away with it. It’s absolutely delicious. It’s great to watch the farmer get into all sorts of scrapes and get questioned and see how he copes with it etc.

“A successful marriage was a balancing act-that was a thing everyone knew. A successful marriage was also dependent on a high tolerance for irritation.”

And you just don’t know which direction the story is gonna go in. I was wrong in my guesses, but the events were no less nasty and horrific – in fact, there really is a lot of nastiness in this story and a lot of disturbing things going on. The best thing though, is that the main narrator, the farmer, is actually pretty stupid, and he doesn’t realise it. He does some very silly things, and makes some very wrong judgements, and he has some very wrong opinions – and he has no idea. It’s a fascinating character study.

BIG DRIVER

Next up is ‘Big Driver’, possibly my favorite of the stories. (This was also made into a movie in 2014)

It starts up about a middle-aged female, a gentle soul, who writes tame murder mysteries. You immediately get a sense that something nasty is going to happen, and you think ‘gosh, how can it happen to this woman?’. But happen it does, and wow, again, utterly impossible to put down. When returning home from a speaking engagement, Tess is stranded on an isolated back road with a blown tire and no cell phone service (of course) and when a 6′ 6″ GIANT steps out of a small F-150 pick-up to lend aid, his assistance soon turns to utter violence as she is…..(you can guess) knocked out, repeatedly raped, robbed and left for dead in a wet and grotesque roadside drainage pipe with two rotting corpses. 

I had to put the book down, watch kitten videos, have a cup of tea, pick up the book again.

What happens next though is truly amazing as Tess takes charge, decides not to be a victim and seeks her revenge. And while I definitely don’t agree with some of the decisions the protagonist makes, and it’s actually a bit frustrating for that reason, too, but it’s another very juicy, shocking, meaty, satisfying story.

FAIR EXTENSION

‘Fair Extension’ is the shortest of the stories, but doesn’t feel like it, as so much is packed in. It’s about a terminally ill guy called Dave Streeter who lives in Derry, Maine (OMG! The town of IT) makes a deal with Elvid (a kiosk owner) to save himself – and it looks at the ramifications of that. It’s very nasty indeed, but it’s so much fun!! 

As the pages of the story rush by, the reader is taken on a short journey through the lives of the characters and, in true King fashion, someone always ends up suffering plight akin to the life of Job (as is plainly referenced in the text). At times humourous as well as glimpse into fate’s capabilities, King shows how the power of belief can turn the tables on any roadblock.

“There are always worse things waiting. You think you have seen the most terrible thing, the one that coalesces all your nightmares into a freakish horror that actually exists, and the only consolation is that there can be nothing worse. Even if there is, your mind will snap at the sight of it, and you will know no more. But there is worse, your mind does not snap, and somehow you carry on. You might understand that all the joy has gone out of the world for you, you might wish you were the one who was dead – but you go on. You might realize that you are in a hell of your own making, but you go on nevertheless. Because there is nothing else to do.” 

A GOOD MARRIAGE

A good marriage cd
A good marriage cd

Finally, there’s ‘A Good Marriage’, which, again, showcases a ‘nice’ middle-aged woman, who makes some shocking discoveries about her husband. Again, it’s another story where you just keep guessing where the hell it’s gonna go – and even when it doesn’t take the turns you expect it to, you still love King for the whole thing. This one has also been adapted into a short feature movie (which I honestly really, really liked!)

“In the end we are all caught in devices of our own making. I believe that. In the end we are all caught.”

And what I like about this one (and the others) is the humour – the silliness, the fun, the attention to detail which shouldn’t be funny but it is. 

“The wife whose sweetly given reply in the face of any problem would be, “Whatever you think is best, dear.” Women, take note: a wife like that never needs to fear bubbling away the last of her life through a cut throat.” 

I love Stephen King. I actually think I want to marry him. He has a God-given gift. He’s a pure storyteller, and that is very rare in this day and age. To be able to get inside people’s heads, to create a psychology, to make you interested in the story, to be utterly gripped – that is so powerful. And the other amazing thing – these stories are so simple. They’re almost obvious. They make you think ‘why didn’t I come up with that?’.
Good old King.

Like DIFFERENT SEASONS and FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT, which generated such enduring hit films as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, FULL DARK, NO STARS proves Stephen King a master of the long story form.
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