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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen King February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Full Dark, No Stars, Klondike Sun, Stephen KIng, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen Kingfull dark

By Dan Davidson

March 1, 2017

– 907 words –


Full Dark, No Stars

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

560 pages


or e-book



Every few years Stephen King drops another big book of short stories on us. The one prior to this was Just After Sunset, and contained 14 tales that one could actually classify as short stories within its 539 pages. I say this because none of them were more than 80 pages long and most were way less. Some were as short as 10.

That’s not the case with Full Dark, No Stars. Only the bonus story not listed in the table of contents is actually a short story, a mere 25 pages, which is really short for King.[

There are five other items. Just five. Don’t worry. Years ago King wrote that he didn’t consider himself a literary superstar, but he always gave good weight. Most of these would fall into the novella category. Some of them might be a little longer that they needed to be, but they are never boring.

He opens up with 1922 (p. 3 to 191), a tale named for the year that Wilfred Leland Jones began the journey that led to his writing his confession just before his death. Fans of the genre will probably recognize this as a long-winded homage to Poe’s “A Telltale Heart”, a story in which a man’s guilt tortures him so that he eventually goes mad. Jones went mad well before his end in 1930. This is a tale of a marriage gone bad, of a son corrupted by his father’s foul deeds and of karma raining down hell on all the major players, including some who were basically innocent when we first met them.

When Wilfred killed his wife fairly early in the story, he set in motion a chain of events that doomed more than her. He’s not a reliable narrator, so we are free to assume that a lot of what he later perceives is guilt driven insanity. It’s a powerful story.

Next up is “Big Driver” (pages 195 to 357), a story which owes something to the Jodie Foster movie The Brave One, which is referenced in the telling. King likes to write about writers. Tess (last name?) writes cozy mysteries about the Willow Grove Knitting Society, and it never occurred to her that she would be involved a Charles Bronson Death Wish style revenge thriller.

When the big truck driver who stopped to help her with her flat tire rapes her, beats her and leaves her for dead in a drainage ditch along with several other bodies, Tess survives instead, manages to get home and in a more than slightly altered state of mind, applies herself to finding and dealing with the people who were responsible for what had just happened to her.

It’s a dark story, but it ends well.

“Fair Extension” (pages 359 to 405) is a twist on the deal with the devil story. Mr. David Streeter was dying of cancer when he met George Elvrid (figure it out), who offered him a life extension with a whole lot of options. The trick was that for everything good that happened to him, something bad had to happen to someone else – or maybe to the world at large; that’s sort of hinted at. What we do know is that the lives of his best friend and every member of that man’s poor family suffer horribly over the ensuing years.

What we also know is that the end result of this story, told to us cheerfully from Dave’s point of view, is that Dave becomes an utter rotter of a human being and is happy that way. This is a full dark story.

“A Good Marriage” (pages 407 to 526) is the tale of Darcy Anderson who, after 25 years of happy marriage, suddenly discovers that her husband, Bob, is an insane serial killer. She’s in no danger, as he explains to her the night she figures it out. It’s another side of his personality, a side that roamed freely before they got married, stopped entirely for 15 years, and has recently become active again. But, for her, he can stop, and apparently does. But this is another kind of devil’s deal, and one she has to decide how she will live with, or not.

There’s a Constant Reader afterword to this book, in which King explains (because he’s happy to do that) where the ideas for these stories came from, and his own theories about the importance of stories that are “both propulsive and assaultive”, stories about “ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Then there’s the really short story called “Under The Weather” about the advertising agency man who manages to convince himself, though we know better, that his wife has not died in their bedroom several days ago. This is an EC Comix kind of horror story, so it’s funny in a very dark way.

Looking at this entire book, what I notice is that the really downer stories are the ones in which the viewpoint characters are male, while the stories focussing on women are ultimately uplifting, even when they feature terrible events.

I’ve had this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. It is still available, about 18 different formats, two of which I’ve listed above.