Duma Key

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Stephen King's latest book shows to good effect many of his strengths and some of his weaknesses. Let's start with the weaknesses. After putting the book down, I reflected on the fact that I don't know the people Stephen King portrays--people whose language tends, shall we say, to the salty side. More bluntly, the book is liberally laced with unnecessary and distracting vulgarities that neither give me a sense of character nor enhance my reading experience. They are so common that one finds oneself in the the position of beginning to filter them out. Another less-than-attractive aspect of Mr. King's work is his tendency to give us his opinions in the guise of a character's thoughts. I don't much care what Mr. King thinks of Mr. Bush, the war in Iraq, or the taste of ranch dressing. Moreover, these details are distracting enough to be remember because, once again, they neither advance plot not contribute anything to character.

All of that said, Duma Key is one of the best things Mr. King has written in some time. (Although to be honest, I can't compare it to Lisey's Story so I could be wrong in that evaluation.) The story centers around a man who suffers a traumatic head injury, the loss of an arm, and other injuries in the course of his work. (I was provoked to wonder about how much of what he relates in the book is autobiographical reflection given his own traumatic experience and recovery. No matter, it doesn't intrude or harm the story line--just reader speculation.)

He moves to a house on Duma Key, and the fun begins. Just as a point of information--Duma Key does not exist. When I first started to read, I associated the key with the Southern Keys; however, Duma Key is in a chain off the west coast of Florida near Sarasota and St. Petersburg. Once I got the geography straight, much else fell into place.

The story is a long meditation on the creative impetus and its ability to both heal and destroy the artist. The supernatural intrudes in the way expected in a Stephen King novel, and yet, it is much more subdued, much more subtle and only comes into strong play about two-thirds of the way through the novel. This is NOT a criticism--it shows a markedly altered and, I think, correct sensibility with regard to the use of the supernatural. This full length novel is much closer in spirit to some of the exquisite short works that Stephen King has given us. Reading it, I was reminded of the sheer joy and power of The Colorado Kid, probably a lesser-known but very nicely done King opus in the Hard Case Crime series.

The horror in this book is suggested to be Lovecraftian in nature, although such hints are very subtle, very light touches. The real horror is the horror all of us can understand--the loss of a child or the irrevocable and unspeakable alteration of a child through the growth and maturity process. We adjust to this naturally as time progresses, but King's living metaphor of the shifting sand-and-shell simulcrum at the end of the novel is telling.

I asked in an earlier note on the book whether or not he was taking some lessons or hints from his son Joe Hill. Given the prominence of place and the story-line importance of a certain heart-shaped box in this story, I would say that there are certainly mutual influences. Interestingly, King flips the metaphor on its head and the heart-shaped box in this novel contains the means of redemption and salvation.

The book is atmospheric, well-wrought, powerfully imagined, and written by a King at the height of his powers and sensibility. It's a shame that I find certain aspects of that sensibility appalling, but so it is. Nevertheless, for people who enjoy supernatural fiction, and for fans of Mr. King who were wondering if he would ever return to the heights of the early days, I would say that the chain of the last three books suggest that the answer is "Yes." He has returned to a height that he never occupied--one far superior to that of the early days--potentially that of a true literary master. Now, if only he could bring himself to not so liberally lace his prose with unfortunate vulgarities and unneeded opinions.

Highly recommended for a select audience.

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I agree with this book reviewer, and with most of their perceptions. I too am put off by the Liberalism of Hollywood and with some book writers.That is now to the point of extreme detraction. Some actors, and writers, I just avoid, like swine flu. i.e. Sean Penn he is brain dead. Iam not interested in "any" of his work. Anti Americanism etc. that I can not or will ever tolerate.Certain that will not keep him up. However I sleep ok too, and types like this will never get one thin dime of mine.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 10, 2008 7:08 AM.

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