Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (2011 Edition)

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Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (2011 Edition)
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Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (2011 Edition)
Psychological Thriller
Gallery Books
November, 2010 / May, 2011
Story length: 368 pages
Website
Stephen King, the master of suspense, is back with a new collection of short stories titled Full Dark, No Stars. These four tales are meant to showcase the darkest side of humanity, and had quickly topped many bestselling lists. Of course, given the author, this is absolutely no surprise. But, critics everywhere seem to either love or hate this new compilation of terror, and of course his legion of loyal fans are right there to speak praise of his works. But, do these four new compositions stand out as some of his best, or are they some of the worst in recent years?

For the most part, each story in this collection is rather diverse. “1922” takes you to a farm where a Wilfred James and his wife are starting to have problems. The land they farm on was willed to her upon the passing of her father, and the husband simply doesn’t want her to sell it off and be forced to move into the city. At the some time, their son is growing into a teenager and discovering women, especially their neighbor’s daughter. This leads to murder, a family covering it up, and the paranoia of the dead coming back to life with rats as minions to carry out the bidding. Then there’s something as simple as making a deal with the devil on the story “A Fair Exhange,” which ends up more like a laundry list description of years gone by than an actual story of an underdog making a deal with the Devil to make his life better. Instead it describes how his school yard friend is now suffering his fate thanks to the contract with a mysterious tarmac salesman named Elvid with a few areas of dialogue to make you feel either good or bad for whichever character you empathize more with, which is a little hard to do.

Of all the stories, it’s perhaps “1922” that proves to be the most powerful, and engaging. Watching Wilfred James slowly go insane after the murder, slipping into complete paranoia with visions of the deceased coming through, and viewing the attacks from the rats on his livestock as revenge from beyond the grave is rather interesting as it develops through the pages. The side plot involving his son knocking up the neighbor’s daughter, and his eventual running away to wed her, felt more like a distraction to wrap up the narrative confession the tale starts with, only furthering the length of the story more than it has to. In the end, it’s clear the man has nothing to lose, ending with the subtle hint of a the cliche Stephen King writing style: It starts off as a Psychological Thriller and oh look! A monster…

The rest of the collection can feel more like you’re being drug along for the latter half of each story, if not more. Things usually start off well enough though. “Big Driver” starts to give some character development on our lead protagonist that eventually gets raped and wants revenge on everyone involved, “Fair Extension” has some tension as you watch Streeter think Elvid is a deranged lunatic and seems to humor him, and then you have a look at the life of a murderer through the significant other’s eyes with “A Good Marriage,” which is an interesting start that shows the discovering and coping, but once the dust settles you find yourself plodding along to finish the story you started to get wrapped up in when it was more filler than anything, usually to a punch out ending that doesn’t leave you in any way fulfilled to have invested so much time into these characters and experiencing their plight.

But, the worst offender was definitely “Big Driver.” This one never really offered much in character development, an issue necessary to a rape revenge story, and even from the start you’ll end up with little interest other than finishing something you already started. The rape details are not given, which is something good for some who are against that graphic a form of story telling or media expression, but it definitely holds back building a bond between the fictional lead and yourself. Reading her slip into insanity and paranoia, wanting to get revenge against the man named Big Driver easily would have made the tale a little more enjoyable, but it sprawled off and wound up having more involved than just him. There’s no closure in this story either, ending a little on the abrupt side of simple satisfaction that she got her man. This is similar to “A Fair Exhange” which has a really positive start between Elvid and Streeter, only to have him describe the events over the years, and end with him and his wife talking about how great everything is for them and nothing more.

At the very end, there’s also a brief “Afterword” section, roughly four pages long, that finds Stephen King discussing the stories, and how they came about in his head. Some date all the way back to when he was eighteen, such as “Big Driver,” stating he watched a driver fix a woman’s tire, and then he walked away. There’s also “A Good Marriage” which apparently had been inspired by the BTK killer and how people refused to believe his wife never knew this side of him. Reading the explanations really didn’t benefit the stories either, and putting it into the book itself felt as though he thought that some of his readers wouldn’t get what he was going for, and even admits himself that “he did the best he could,” which is something that will leave you thinking you got scraps to large stories he couldn’t figure out, or perhaps were even rushed. Given the amount of unsatisfying abrupt endings, the latter does seem the most obvious. For someone who has authored so many books in his lifetime, he certainly didn’t choose his words wisely in this section, even if it’s interesting to see where his stories stemmed from.


In 2011, Gallery Books printed a paperback version of the collection. While not pocket sized, being one of a larger scale, this version did include the short story “Under the Weather.” Of all the stories, this one was perhaps the most engaging for the longest time. However, that could be due to the tale only spanning fifteen pages. The main issue here is that, after a few, you know what the big reveal is at the very end, which is given away many times after as well if you’re too slow to catch the reference eary on. What keeps you reading is the urge to know how the people will react to the discovery, what comes from it, and maybe a description of what happened, whether it was from the possibility laid out during the airplane ride, or something else largely different from the painfully obvious. Again, the ending is just one that punches out without closure, having him sitting next to the bed with his wife and saying he’ll spend the day with her, leaving many questions unanswered and no closure whatsoever to the events that led up to that moment.


For a book of modern Stephen King stories, it’s fairly decent, but it all follows the same issues that have existed throughout his career. Punch out endings, oh look at a monster conclusion, tales that drag on after half or less of the story is finished, and so on. Any reader of his recent work will know exactly what to expect, but, there’s just enough intrigue, even if you know what’s coming, that you’ll still want to finish the tale. With “1922” really being the only story that grabs hold and doesn’t really end up padded with filler until close to the very end, as well as “Under the Weather” in the paperback edition, it’s worth at least hitting a local library and checking the book out specifically for one or both stories. If you own the initial pressing already, there’s no need to pick up this edition unless you’re that die hard a Stephen King fanatic. If not, and if you have some time to kill and nothing better to read, Full Dark, No Stars will entertain you for a while, just be prepared to suffer through plenty of rough patches and filler in the process.

Overall Score: 5.5/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.