Wednesday, August 3, 2011

King's a King

Books are wonderful things, and I'm not talking about the electronic kind. I'm one of those people who shies away from the thought of an e-reader because I'm in love with the smell and feel of books, especially ones that have lived many lives with many people. The feel of a page that has been turned by hundreds before me is one I adore and wouldn't give up for the world. This typically means I'm in a constant state of panic as I try to figure out how to transport the latest addition to my printed family. I leave Dublin in about three weeks and have two suitcases, a carry-on and a backpack into which everything must fit, at no more than about 125 pounds. Thus, I have the unpleasant task of having to choose which of my books will go with me (a 10 kilo package will cost me 80 euro, and that's no small change to a grad student with an income of 0).

I'm no closer to solving this dilemma (again, the e-reader thing is out of the question...for now), but I do know at least one of the volumes on my shelf I couldn't leave behind under any circumstances: Full Dark, No Stars by the talented and wonderful Stephen King. I have been a fan of King's work for several years now and have undertaken the considerable task of reading all but a handful of his published works, including those published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Given this, it's no surprise I'm reticent to part with this treasure, despite the fact that it's a hardcover.

But King's work in this collection of four novellas was touching on a whole new level. The stories are experiments into the darkest places in the human mind, exposing the fat, ugly issues of despair, guilt, hopelessness and greed, to name a few. The hero/ine in each tale is not someone to put on a pedestal and worship for their superhuman achievements, but this makes them no less moving. They are human, in every sense of the twisted, broken nature of human being. They face issues we can barely imagine, but that are not quite out of grasp. You can sit right down next to them and look into their world, catch a glimpse of what they feel, and suddenly understand exactly why they did the things they did. It's almost scary to think of what we as humans are capable of, and I don't mean physically.

How can one empathise with a murderer? Or look into the eyes of someone who signed away someone else's life to save their own and understand why they did it, while at the same time hating them for it? We are all contradictions in ourselves who want to look in the mirror and see the sunny side, but that darker side lurks just on the other side of glass (as it does for Darcy in "A Good Marriage"). So many authors create people we admire and aspire to be, but King offers in this wonderful collection a series of people we understand, a series of people we all have the capacity to be.

King's work has always been the epitome of character development, in my opinion. Whenever I read one of his tales, I know and love his characters, despite their considerable flaws; perhaps even because of their flaws. He writes them as real as you and I, which is probably the reason it took me three years to read It; the characters were so real, I couldn't bear what was happening to them. It was the only time I have ever connected with a work of fiction to the point of actual fear. King is the king of character development and I am his loyal subject.

So, Full Dark, No Stars has earned its place in my luggage. I have yet to decide whether the host of fantasy and horror novels it calls friends will join it. Perhaps they should stay, left in a coffee shop or cafe, to be enjoyed by another...if I can bring myself to part with them.


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