In my last post, I said that On Writing Horror should be required reading for anyone who wants to write horror. Stephen King is more than that; he’s inevitable reading. Case in point, I haven’t bought a new Stephen King in a long time, but I consistently get them as gifts. People who don’t know the wide range of talent that horror has to offer know Stephen King. And for good reason.
His latest collection, featuring four novellas, proves that King can still deliver. The strongest story is “A Good Marriage,” which cranks up the tension slowly and expertly. Even after the main conflict is resolved, King turns the screw a final time, which jolted me, making me question why I and the main character of the story were so willing to take the word of a psychotic serial killer. My second favorite was “Fair Extension,” a perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor and disquieting truth about what can lie behind the veneer of friendship. “1922” kicks off the collection with a long rambling story that can’t really decide what it wants to be, which can appeal to some, but I feel that it had too much going on to be encompassed by the first-person confession-style of it. The story definitely has its high points, but unfortunately doesn’t end strongly, another casuality of its first-person style. If I had my druthers, “Big Driver” would have been written by Jack Ketchum, not that King can’t write stories like “Big Driver,” but it reads like he was in unfamiliar waters and was a little trepidant to go into the deep end.
After forty years, you’d think that King would have slipped into a pattern, which is only separated from words like rut and formula by the niceties of language. But with Full Dark, No Stars, King proves that he would never allow himself to go down that road, challenging himself as a writer and us as readers.