Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stephen King: Duma Key (2008)

Edgar Freemantle has made a lot of money with his Minnesota construction business before a horrific accident on the job leaves him with a damaged memory, a broken body, and a missing right arm. Along the way, Edgar's marriage falls apart. Depressed and thinking of suicide, Freemantle talks to his therapist, who suggests a change of scenery and a hobby, as "hedges against the night".

Edgar moves to the west coast of Florida, into a beach house he calls Big Pink, and begins drawing and painting - something in which he took pleasure when he was younger. His house overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and he begins painting sunsets. However, the subjects of his paintings soon change, and it's clear that Edgar has gained some paranormal power. He is at his easel constantly, producing an extraordinary number of emotionally-charged paintings in a relatively short period of time. He's not entirely clear on where this talent or creativity is coming from. His paintings eventually attract attention and he has a wildly successful showing. But all is not sunshine; there are some dark forces at work, as Edgar soon learns.

King's narrative is highly readable and enjoyable as he recounts Edgar's friendship with Wireman, a gregarious sage who lives down the beach as the caretaker of the elderly Elizabeth Eastlake, whose father once owned this particular strip of Florida coastline. King clearly draws on personal experience in describing Edgar's long and painful recovery from his accident (King was struck by a van and nearly killed in 1999) and he offers his thoughts on the creative process throughout the book, though he seems to hint that those impulses can come from a very dark place. It's only in the book's second half that Duma Key drifts into boilerplate horror.

Duma Key received good reviews, from the New York TimesEsquire and Pop Matters, as well as Kevin Quigley, who runs a website devoted to King and his work. However, while I enjoyed Duma Key more than the last few King novels in the Project, it disappointed me. I agree with the Telegraph (UK) reviewer who wrote that Duma Key "starts promisingly but descends into an overlong, self-indulgent stinker. ... The novel, in which King starts to weave a multi-layered tale of loss, hope and recovery, concluded with ghosts, zombies and killers."

One-third of the novel's 600 pages could have been cut with little negative impact on the plot. I enjoyed King's focus on painting/creativity, but my interest flagged as Edgar (with the assistance of two friends) attempted to vanquish the island's evil spirits and save both himself and his loved ones. I can accept some supernatural activity in my fiction - my favourite book of all-time features at least one wraith, after all - but I draw the line well before colossal reptiles and levitating lawn jockeys.

Next: Just After Sunset.

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