“Full Dark, No Stars”
by Stephen King
Read by Craig Wasson and Jessica Hecht
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio (2010)
Approx 15 hours
Okay, off the top here I’ve gotta admit, I’m a HUGE Stephen King fan, I would read a grocery list if he wrote it. That’s the big reason I picked up this audiobook. Stephen King is the master of horror, and can always bring me to dark places and allow me to leave unscathed. This collection of novellas was no different. In fact this collection will take the reader/listener to some pretty dark places, but you will come out ok, trust me.
“Full Dark, No Stars” is a collection of four novellas dealing with the theme of retribution. In all cases someone gets retribution, in one case I’m not so sure if the retribution was steered toward the rightful person but it was there. This collection also explores the human psyche in its darkest corners. King always asks the question “What if..?” and can create some startling stories. Sometimes in King’s novels the what if may be “What if an alien landed? What if a giant spider/clown thing lived underground and fed on children?” This time around, however, he takes on a trek through some dark realities; What if you were married to a serial killer? What if you dumped your wife down the well? What if you escaped a serial killer? What if you could be cured of cancer?
The four novellas are tell of murders of some sort, two of which from a male point of view and two from a female point of view. This is why there are two different narrators, one male and one female, both do a superb job of presenting these dark stories. I think Craig Wasson shines best in his presentation of the first story “1922,” he creates the down home feel in his vocal presentation, making it sound as if we are listening to Wilfred James actually talk out his confession.
Now, let’s talk a bit about the four stories:
Wilfred James, the story’s narrator, writes a lengthy confession for the murder of his wife, Arlette, in Hemingford Home, Nebraska, in 1922. (King fans will recognize the town as being the center of the psychic magnet for the “good guys” in “The Stand.”) Wilfred owns 80 acres of farmland that have been in his family for generations. His wife owns an adjoining 100 acres willed to her by her father. Wilfred loves his farm and scorns the thought of living in a city, but Arlette is hates the farm life and wants to move to Omaha, (Insert “Green Acres” theme song here.) She wants to sell her land to a livestock company for use as a pig farm and slaughterhouse. But if she does so, Wilfred’s farm will smell like pig shit and the water will become disgusting, as he lives downstream from it. Arlette wants Wilf to sell his land to the farmers as well so they can all move to Omaha, while Wilf wants her to use the land to farm crops. They cannot agree, so Arlette decides to sell her land, divorce Wilf, and move to Omaha herself. Wilfred, who is very attached to his land, can’t stand to have it be laid to waste in this way, and manipulates his reluctant 14-year-old son, Henry/Hank, into helping him murder his own mother, by convincing him of how awful and selfish she is, and how terrible their life in Omaha will be, particularly since it will take Henry away from the girl he likes.
They do the deed and then dump her body down the well, at first this seems like the deed is done, but soon the rats come. The rats used to live in the well and seem to have become Arlette’s minions. Haunting and torturing Wilf and his cattle. To top it off Hank gets a neighbor girl pregnant and soon his doom is unveiled. Wilf does not come out on top like he hoped and the rats follow him everywhere.
I’ve always heard that when you write for a living write about what you know best, I’ve noticed King takes this to heart in that a lot of his main characters are writers, this story is about yet another writer. Tess is a successful mystery writer who appears at a speaking engagement for the group Books & Brownbaggers at the Chicopee Public Library in Chicopee, Massachusetts. After the event, the head librarian, Ramona Norville, who had invited Tess to the library for the event, tells Tess to avoid Interstate 84, which she believes to be dangerous. Instead, she gives Tess the directions to Stagg Road, a presumably safer shortcut to Tess’ home in Connecticut. However, as Tess takes the shortcut, her Ford Expedition rolls over pieces of wood with nails that lie across the road, giving her a flat tire. The place where the incident happens is by an abandoned store/gas station.
Shortly afterwards, an enormous man in a pickup drives by and offers to assist Tess. However, when Tess looks in the truck’s bed and notices pieces of wood similar to those that punched out her tires, the hulking man knocks her out. She returns to consciousness as the man is raping her inside the abandoned store. This begins a horrific ordeal in which Tess is repeatedly assaulted, both sexually and physically, finally being choked to unconsciousness. Tess plays dead while the man dumps her into a culvert, where she sees the rotting corpses of several previous victims, indicating that she has encountered a serial killer. Tess manages to find her way home but is a changed person and seeks revenge. King says he got the idea for this story while going to a book signing himself and stopping at a rest stop and seeing a woman with a flat tire getting help from a friendly truck driver. Of course, King turns this into a darker story with a darker ending than what probably happened with the good samaritan at the rest stop.
On his way home, Dave Streeter sees a man with a roadside stand by the road to the Derry airport (here King brings back the town of Derry, Maine, which has gone through all sorts of different hells). Street goes out and talks with the man, George Elvid, who tells Streeter that he sells extensions of various types. Streeter, who is dying of lung cancer, thinks Elvid might be a mental patient escapee after he claims to have existed for centuries. Elvid offers Streeter a chance to live for approximately 15 years if he pays 15 percent of his salary for every one of those years… and transfers the “weight” of his misfortune onto someone he knows, but not just someone he knows, it has to be someone he hates.
Streeter selects Tom Goodhugh, his best friend since childhood, whom he has secretly hated for years. Streeter has done everything for Goodhugh, including doing his homework. Later, Goodhugh stole Streeter’s girlfriend in college and married her. Goodhugh founded a successful million-dollar waste removal business with Streeter’s assistance and now lives a lavish lifestyle, has three children on the fast track to great lives, and doesn’t look like age has caught up with him, unlike Streeter.
A couple of days later, Streeter goes to his doctor, who tells him his tumors are shrinking. Four months later, Streeter is declared cancer-free, which perplexes his doctor. The good luck continues in subsequent years, as Streeter is promoted several times at work and his marriage becomes joyous and rich with lavish lifestyle improvements. His children begin a long line of career successes: his son creates two bestselling video games and his daughter gets her dream job as a journalist at the Boston Globe right out of college after graduating from the Columbia School of Journalism.
At the same time, Goodhugh’s wife develops breast cancer, one son has a heart attack and lives but suffers brain damage, his daughter’s husband dies, she gives birth to a stillborn baby (due to same heart defect that caused the heart attack in his other son). Streeter wins a longer life but at what cost.
“A Good Marriage”
Darcy Anderson has been married to Bob, a partner at a Portland, Maine accounting firm, for 27 years. They have two children, Donnie and Petra, who have left home for college. They also have a mail order business selling and appraising rare coins. But one night, while Bob is away on a business trip, Darcy goes into the garage to search for batteries. When she rummages through Bob’s belongings, she stumbles across a pornographic magazine showing images of sadomasochism. Unnerved by the magazine—and the fact that it is in Bob’s possession—Darcy finds a secret compartment behind the garage’s baseboard and makes a more horrific discovery: a small box containing the ID cards of Marjorie Duvall, a victim of a serial killer called “Beadie.” Once Darcy has discovered this and then she researches and finds that all of Bob’s out of town trips correspond to other murders by “Beadie.” What will Darcy do with this information? If she tells the cops what will the neighbors think? She and her children’s reputations will be ruined, after all, how could she be married to him and not know? What she does may surprise even the most avid fan of King’s work. Stephen King wrote this after hearing the news reports of the “BTK” murderer caught in Kansas a few years back, and his exploration of how the wife of BTK could not know is what makes this story so realistic.
Definitely a good dive into the dark side from Stephen King.