Stephen King - Full Dark, No Stars | Jaimy Gordon - Lord of Misrule

Book reviews for February 2011 Staff

Written by Staff Published on 31.01.2011 14:22:41 (updated on 31.01.2011) Reading time: 5 minutes

Full Dark, No Stars
Written by: StephenKing
Published by: Scribner
Pages: 384 p.
This book is available at the Big Ben Bookshop

In the afterword to Stephen King´s latest book, Full Dark, No Stars, he writes: “I have no quarrel with literary fiction which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but both as a reader and a writer, I´m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.” And that about sums up the premises for all four of the well-written and engaging novellas told here. In true King style, they´ve got their morbid elements, but not having read King for a really long time, I was reminded what a really good writer he can be.

Revenge is the theme that runs through all four stories. In “1922,” probably my least favorite; the cold voice the story is told in (from the main character, Wilfred Leland James) is as haunting as the story – a man kills his wife and convinces their 14-year-old son to help him. The downward spiral of their lives and the consequences it wrecks on those around them is solemnly put forward.

Big Driver,” tells the story of a crime writer, Tessa, who is raped and left for dead while driving home from a talk and book signing. Initially just wanting to put her experience in the past, she wavers between gong to the police and confrontation. Confront she does, and with amusing aplomb that made this my favorite of the four stories, even though what she discovers about the crime is pretty horrific. For such a heavy topic, King writes it very lightly.

The third story does have some payback, perhaps – but not for the main character, who meets an “extension” man who sells extensions to whatever you´d like longer – mortgage, hair, penis, you get the picture. In “Fair Extension,” Dave Streeter is suffering from terminal cancer, so of course he requests a life extension. His payment? The life of someone else. Scrabble fans take note of the salesman´s name – George Elvid. The theme of the story isn´t a new one; however the way King portrays Dave´s response to the changes in his life is quite revealing.

And finally, “A Good Marriage.” There´s not much revenge in this one, just a woman who is completely in the dark about her serial killer husband. He now knows that she knows – and what will she do after 20 plus years of marriage and two children?

In three out of the four novellas (1922 excluded) the characters´ actions don´t seem to have major consequences post event; and the message almost seems to be revenge pays. I doubt this was King´s intent, like he said in the afterward, “ordinary people in extraordinary situations.” However, the planning that all the characters due to commit their “acts” is so well-thought out that it comes across as a bit unbelievable. I used to be an avid King reader but went off him at Gerald´s Game.  I have read nearly all his “old” stuff (Carrie, Christine, The Shining, etc) and Full Dark, No Stars did not make me fear climbing out of my bed, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed King. What I liked most in this book, other than the scariness, was his character building and his language. And on these two fronts Full Dark, No Stars does not disappoint.

Stephen King       


Lord of Misrule
Written by: Jaimy GordonPublished by: McPherson
Pages: 296 p.
This book is available at Big Ben Bookshop

I feel like I must have missed something big in Lord of Misrule. Winner of the National Book Award, Jaimy Gordon reveals the seedy world of horse racing through the eyes of four distinct characters. Tommy is a young upstart, new to the game and at the track to run a scam. His girlfriend Maggie comes along as his trainer and is even greener than Tommy. Medicine Ed is an old groom who has seen it all. And finally Two-tie, yes he wears two bow ties, is some sort of godfather gangster type of the track, and also turns out to be Maggie´s uncle. The fictional Indian Mound Downs is a lowdown dirty one – the horses aren´t expected to be good and the owners are rightly assumed to be on the take. I am not familiar with horse racing, and some of the terms and things that were going on were confusing. Normally I find in books whose central topic is new to me, I´m either able to figure it out, or the background isn´t so germane to the story that I feel I´m missing something. Here, it was. The characters and the storyline weren´t enough to draw me into their lives, or make the effort to learn something more about horse racing.

Gordon´s decision to tell the story through four different points of view was jarring. Each person had its own speaking style, and Tommy´s was in the “you” form as in “You entered the barn. You saw the horse.” Also, I don´t think having four narrators really added any perspective to the story, or moved it forward in a meaningful way. Most of what you learn about Tommy is told through the other characters as he´s usually away “seeing a man about a horse.” I think he´s supposed to be a central character, but ends up on the periphery of the story. Gordon does have a masterful use of language, and she is obviously intimately familiar with the horse racing world (she worked as a trainer after college.) The development of her characters though and the relationships between them for me was lacking. There also seemed to be too many marginal characters, who Gordon wanted to have a big important part but there wasn´t enough room for them. Gordon does make the horses come alive however, her imagery skills are evident and it is these “characters” that were for me the most enjoyable.

Lord of Misrule was considered the dark horse for the National Book Award: little known book, author and publisher – so her winning it on a book about long shots – horses and people – is for me the story´s winning aspect.

Jaimy Gordon     

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