I’ve read every one of Stephen King’s more than forty novels (including those written under the name of Richard Bachman). He is one of a handful of authors whose books I buy in hardback, at full price if necessary, as soon as they’re released. I’ve watched his writing grow and change over the years, and I’ve enjoyed some stories more than others, but I’ve enjoyed them all.
That said, I have to admit to a little disappointment in the last few books. The Colorado Kid was a cute little exercise, but it didn’t grab me like a King novel is supposed to.
Cell was pure King in concept: take an ordinary, everyday thing, maybe one that annoys you a bit (in this case, the cell phone) and turn it into a monster. But as good as the premise was, the writing wasn’t as sharp and tangy as I expect from King. The story didn’t seem to be fleshed out enough. Although coming from any other writer, it would have been good enough, it fell short of my expectations of what a novel with Steve’s name on the front should be. It seemed more like a draft than a finished product – even down to the typos, something I rarely find in a King book.
Lisey’s Story was another so-so effort. Entertaining enough to keep me reading, for sure, but there were none of those brilliant flashes of insight, those incredible plays on words that stand out in your memory years after you put down the book. In fact, I had trouble remembering the plot and had to refresh my memory by re-reading the jacket blurbs before I wrote this.
Maybe it was because these followed the last three Dark Tower books that they were such a let-down. That series was a tough act to follow. I actually began to think that maybe King had poured so much of his fire into it that none of his subsequent books would quite reach that magical realm again.
Then along came Duma Key. Usually I know about the impending release of a King novel months in advance and anxiously await it. This one I stumbled across at the grocery store, a totally unexpected little surprise. There was only one copy on the shelf, so I quickly scooped it up and ensconced it in the cart between my Pepperidge Farm whole wheat English muffins and my Weight Watcher double fudge frozen cakes.
What a silly title, I thought, but I also noted that this one was satisfyingly fat – over 700 pages. The last three had been far too slim, and were over much too soon to provide the proper Kingly experience.
I settled in with the book on a weekend and finished it up within a week, despite a heavy work schedule (by sacrificing non-essential time such as that I would otherwise have spent sleeping). The story was enjoyable and King was at the top of his wordsmithing game once again. His protagonist, a one-armed artist named Edgar, is likable enough to keep you on his side and just obnoxious enough to make him seem human.
The interweaving of his story with that of "Libbit" – the child prodigy of the 1920s who grew up to be the elderly Elizabeth who owns most of the island to which Edgar flees after his marriage breaks up in the wake of his accident, injury and associated personality changes – makes for a fascinating tale. Other supporting characters (Edgar’s daughter Ilse, who has always been his favorite, Edgar’s shrink, Dr. Kamen, Edgar’s hired hand, Jack, and Edgar’s new friend, Wireman) are all nicely developed and come alive in King’s hands and in readers’ minds.
As with most of King’s best works, it all starts out as a character study with some slightly out of the ordinary but not at all implausible events and eventually builds to a thoroughly paranormal climax. It’s vintage King, and his long time fans will leave satisfied.
One thing I wished for, in light of the subject matter, was an illustrated version of this book. Something along the lines of the drawings in the Dark Tower series, which really weren’t vital to that story. Because Edgar’s paintings are important elements in this story, I’d like to see them. On the other hand, perhaps real pictures couldn’t carry quite the mystique that our imaginations can give them.
All in all, it was a good read. Not, perhaps, quite the classic that The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Green Mile and the Dead Zone were, but right up there with Pet Sematary, It, Misery, Cujo and The Dark Half, books whose plots I won’t forget anytime soon.