Stephen King has long been acknowledged as a master of horror fiction, but what makes his tales resonate with readers is that you can identify with his characters. They are often ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances; some are good, some evil, but King gets inside their heads in a way few authors do. Some critics may vilify him as an author of popcorn fiction, but I think that description sells his best work short. In Full Dark, No Stars, his 2010 collection of short fiction, we get four novella length tales, as well as a bonus short story in the paperback edition. Here’s a brief rundown of the stories:
1922: The opening tale finds a farmer contemplating the murder of his wife, over their disagreement about selling some land. How he accomplishes the murder, with the help of his son, is a scene worthy of some of King’s best short fiction. And what follows is a Poe-style tale of conscience, guilt and terror that could only come from King’s pen. There are some truly chilling scenes in this dark tale.
Big Driver: A mystery writer avenges a brutal attack in this dark tale. Some interesting interior monologues, and a likable main character distinguish this story that asks: how far is too far to go when you decide upon seeking revenge?
Fair Extension: This story is perhaps the closest in style to King’s earlier short fiction, as a cancer-stricken man with bad luck makes a deal with a devilish figure to extend his life, and bring himself some good fortune. But there is a cost to making that deal, and the man must decide if he’s willing to have success at someone else’s cost.
A Good Marriage: A happily married woman discovers a dark secret about her husband in this story. Do you really know the person that sleeps beside you at night? And what would you do if you found out your spouse had another side you never knew about? This is an intriguing story that answers that question.
Following a brief Afterword by King, the paperback edition features a bonus short story titled Under The Weather: Just why has Brad’s wife been ill for so long? And why hasn’t anyone seen her? This short tale will give you the answer.
The characters in these stories are all well drawn; some are likable, some are not. But as you read you find yourself wondering if you would make the same choices these people do, given the same circumstances. We may all be just a step away from opening that dark door inside our own souls. It’s to King’s credit that he continues to write compelling fiction that has gone far beyond the “horror” label. If you’re looking for a book that will draw you in, and have you turning the pages all night, Full Dark, No Stars is a worthy addition to your library.