Friday, August 21, 2009

Duma Key

Thirty years ago, when Stephen King was just beginning his career, one of his early proponents was John D. MacDonald, who wrote the introduction to King’s collection Night Shift, and mentioned King’s work in several of his own books. MacDonald was, of course, the progenitor of the “Florida novel”, a type of book that takes advantage of Florida’s unusual geography and demographic makeup. Now Stephen King has written his own “Florida novel”, Duma Key.

The protagonist of Duma Key is Edgar Freemantle, a successful building contractor in Minnesota. Edgar’s pleasant life is shattered in an on-site accident, which costs him his right arm, and leaves him with problems from an excessively shaken brain. The accident leads to the end of his career, the break-up of his marriage, and his estrangement from his previous life. On the advice of his therapists, he relocates to Florida, and takes up painting, a skill for which he finds he has great talent. He also finds something far more sinister, that there is something wrong with his new home, something which is giving power to his work, power to change reality.

At first glance, this seems like a more-or-less standard setup for a horror novel. But King works wonders here. This is a novel of supernatural horror, but it is also about dealing with loss, about trying to find redemption, and coping with redemption. Edgar pays a terrible price for his new skills.

As always, King is a master of characterization. The book is filled with indelible characters, like the beach philosopher Wireman, and his charge, Elizabeth Eastbrook. You develop feelings for the characters, which gives great power to their ultimate fates.

A lot of people delight in criticizing King’s recent work. Depending on who you ask, his masterpiece is either Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Shining, or It, all books written in the first few years of his career. This book is very different. It is written by a man looking at 60, not at 30, and while it may not have the exuberant pacing of King’s first few novels, it more than makes up for it in the maturity of the writing. I have been a faithful reader of Stephen King since the beginning, and, in my opinion, this is one of the best things he’s ever written. And that is high praise, indeed.


Fred Trigger said...

I think his masterpiece is "The Dark Tower" series. I just finished reading it last December, after 2 years and it was well worth the time. I wondered how the series was going to end and I think the way he did it was perfect.

KentAllard said...

Hi, Fred! The Dar Tower series is the only thing by King I haven't read. I read the first two, then resolved that I wouldn't read any more until it was finished and I could read the whole read. Now the whole set sits on the bookshelf, intimidating me by their length. One day I'll plunge into 'em.

John Hornor said...

I agree that DUMA KEY is one of his best of the last ten years. BAG OF BONES was quite good, as well. However, I still think he could've trimmed around 50-100 pages.

The problem with King is his own success. Once you've reached his level of earnings for the publishers, they put away the red pens and stop editing.

Have I ever expounded to you on my Lennon/McCartney theory?

KentAllard said...

love to hear it.

John Hornor said...

Stephen King needs editors like Paul McCartney needs John Lennon.

Think about McCartney's output after 1980, the year Lennon died. What have you got that even comes close to scratching at the quality of song that he wrote in The Beatles? Or even Wings, for that matter? "Say, Say, Say"? "Ebony and Ivory"?

The Fireman?


Before 1980, MacCartney, when he'd write, he knew that at some point, John Lennon would hear his song and judge it. Maybe harshly, maybe not. You never know. Lennon was mercurial.

But once Lennon died, McCartney had no rein on some of his more self-indulgent songwriting traits that Lennon, I think (again, all theory here), would have scoffed at. The tendency toward the sugary. The "aren't I so clever" lyrics.

Those early editors were King's Lennon. He needed them to make his books tighter, more concise. In a word, better. Once his books became top earners, start seeing those 1000 page books. (I just double checked this and it is *pretty much* true.)

However, this is a theory dreamt up by an idiot, so, as always, take it with a grain of salt.

All that being said, DUMA KEY is still a great book. And Stephen King in poor form is still better than most folks at their best, myself included. I know, in some writing circles, it's vogue to bash King, but he is the man, without whom, there'd be no horror genre as we know it. So please don't think I'm bashing him. Just saying.

I like McCartney too. Just not after Wings.

KentAllard said...

It makes since. Of course, there's also the fact that John Lennon went back to recording just before he was killed after hearing the Paul McCartney song "Coming Up", and believing he (Lennon) had never written its equal, therefore sending him back into competition. which tends to show Lennon's judgment wasn't that great, since the song sucks.

John Hornor said...

He was also strung out on blow at the time.

But, hey, "Coming Up" is a great tune. Of course, Lennon wrote shitloads of songs better than it, but still...good song. I'm gonna listen to it right now.

KentAllard said...

John also thought "Abbey Road" was the worst Beatles record.