Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Good Marriage (from Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King - Wrapping up King's March

A Good Marriage is the final story in this amazing short story collection, Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. It's a 100 page novella and makes a greatly disturbing read. If I think about it, this story has less gore as compared to Big Driver, hardly any violent graphic detail unlike 1922 and it has much fewer glimpses into crazy minds than Fair Extension. Honestly, it ought to be the least upsetting story of the entire collection; if only it weren't so true to life. 

I saved the last story of the collection for a classic Stephen King-ey experience. Reading it alone in the middle of the night (it was around 2 a.m. by the time I finished), with a reading light and shuddering every so often, resisting the impulse to just abandon the book and go to sleep instead. That's how Stephen King should be read, isn't it? Without the eerie atmosphere, the building tension, The Shining wouldn't quite have been The Shining. 

A Good Marriage is very different from the other stories in Full Dark, No Stars. It isn't about a lunatic murderer, or a raging victim driven to murder, it is the story of a murderer's wife. What would a woman do if she were to find out one day, out of nowhere, that her husband of some twenty seven years was a notorious serial killer? If she were to realize the man she loved, the man who surely loved her back, the father of her two children had lived a secret life as a murderer? How far would Darcy go to save her marriage?

It's not a unique setting, you have to admit. In fact, based as it is on a true story, it's not meant to be one of its kind. It almost reminded me of Alice Munro's Dimension in the way it focuses on the one who is the closest to an offender, the one who suffers the most after the victims, the one who gets the least sympathy: the murderer's family. That it is convincingly, worryingly realistic is what makes A Good Marriage the best and the worst story at once. King has done here what he does best. In his words, he's put "ordinary people in extraordinary situations" to provoke a reaction. He's played out this situation in invigorating, unnerving, undistorted, tear-jerking detail. 

King has toyed with the realization that someone you love, someone you thought you knew completely, can turn out to be a altogether different creature. King has described vividly how it dawns upon Darcy that you can never really know a person, not even one you've built your life with. Once the truth hits home, it takes only one caressing touch, from her husband for Darcy to be terrified of him. Seeing him for what he really is, his once-endearing toothy smile and soundless laugh make her nauseous. And she loves him.

It's a good story, and what makes it good, is how difficult it is to put yourself in Darcy's shoes. To wonder how you'd react in that situation; a situation that when not looked at personally makes so much sense. A Good Marriage is a nice story about marriage and oddly, it's a happy story, in that it leaves you with a grudging sense of relief and the realization that there's a little hope for humanity, after all.

It turns out A Good Marriage is being made into a movie. Or is it already out? I don't think I'll watch it, but I'm curious to see how it's received. I suppose it will fair well like all his movies do, I only hope it's for the right reasons.

The Afterword is brilliant. Only Stephen King can do justice to describing what he does in his stories. And it really got me thinking. 

"I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even. But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in trying to do the right thing... and that when we fail to do that, or willfully turn away from the challenge, hell follows."

As much as I love having the 'visceral' reactions that King intends to invoke in his readers, I am happy to be out of the dark and in the light, glad, of course, that he brought me out here (even if with a cheeky wink), impressed that the collection ends on a fairly optimistic note. I loved this collection, and I know overuse that word but I do mean it in its fullest sense here: I loved it. It's a must read. But I don't think I'll be revisiting Stephen King anytime soon.

My copy of Full Dark, No Stars has an extra 'bonus' story at the end. I don't want to read it. Nor do I want to read Different Seasons, which I'd picked up for King's March as well. I'm going to return those two to the library and take a temporary hiatus from Stephen King, and perhaps all things horror. I know that contradicts what I wrote in my previous post about reading everything he's ever written, but hey, I have a whole lifetime for that.) 

King's March has been quite an experience. I loved reading people's reviews of books I've already read, their opinions and recommendations of books I hope to read somewhere down the line and how almost everyone complained about that thing that always irritates the hell out of me: He doesn't just write horror! Sharing bookish love is what blogging's all about anyway. But now I'm all geared up for the Once Upon a Time Challenge - for a bit of fantasy after this. I think magic and a little gooey happy fun would do me some good right about now.

Tell me this, fellow Stephen King fans, are you ever just a bit too overwhelmed by the dark? Or did you just roll your eyes and call me a chicken? I wouldn't be offended if you did!

9 comments:

harish p i said...

Loved your way of reading Stephen King. I should try it once :)
I love stories about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. They will be more realistic and will touch the reader.

Delia D said...

That's a great review. I've read this book a while back and liked it, just like I like most of King's books. But it's his horror stories that I truly love. I finished The Shining and Doctor Sleep this month and loved the former while just liking the latter. I look forward to King's new book, Revival, which is said to herald a comeback to horror. Can't wait to get my hands on it.
I had no idea about the King's March event. I would have liked to join you.

Priya said...

Harish - It is scary and fun, definitely worth a shot! The setting you're in does influence the effect a book has on you, don't you think?

Delia - Thanks! I always like to hear from a fellow King lover. :) I don't think my voluntary break from Stephen King will last all that long. I knew about Revival, but didn't know it was all out horror. There's also Mr. Mercedes coming out this year, but that, I think, is a mystery... I did like Doctor Sleep a lot, but I know what you mean, The Shining remains an 'unbeaten' classic. :)

adi said...

I looove reading scary stories in the dead of night! It just adds so much to the experience. "A Good Marriage" sounds awesome. I'll have to check out this collection. It's always nice to have a good palate cleanser after reading a lot from one genre; it keeps it fresh.

Priya said...

Adi - It does add to the experience! That's a good way to put my sudden unease with horror, I'm glad I'm not the only one who needs to take a breather once in a while. Thanks for stopping by!

Vi (pronounced Vy) said...

I have a new post up with Etsy bookish finds that I thought you might want to see. :)
http://she-read.blogspot.com/2014/03/etsy-finds-mad-about-austen.html

Priya said...

Hey Vi, thanks for the link. While I've only ever read Pride and Prejudice by Austen (I do want to read more!) I'll make sure to check out your post. :)

Renae Rude said...

This is a great review, and like all great reviews of books I've read, it makes me want to go back and re-read.

I won't be taking a King-break, now or (likely) ever. Weirdly, I find a great deal of light in much of what King writes, even in his straight-up horror books. I think it's because he's so good (as you point out) at seeing what makes people tick, and what makes them beautiful.

Priya said...

Thanks Renae, and thanks for stopping by. Not confessing how hugely freaked out I was by this book would have been lying. So I would like to slip away into biased "good" fantasy between every two SK reads. But I appreciate what you've said. With Mr. Mercedes and Revival coming out, I'm not sure how long this resolve will last, anyway!

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