Thursday, May 15, 2008
Even though I bought it some time ago, I finally finished Stephen King's newest novel, Duma Key. Now, I'm a fan of King going back as far as I can remember. The first novel of his I read was It, which remains one of my favourites. But in recent years, King hasn't been up to par. It wasn't until Bag of Bones that he realized his potential, but he's never quite gotten back there since then. It's not ironic that his newest work is unconsciously the same novel as Bag of Bones but with painting.
Edgar Freemantle loses his arm in a construction accident, gets a divorce, and changes scenery to the beautiful Duma Key in Florida, where he begins painting. He meets Jerome Wireman, a lawyer looking after the ancient and Alzheimer's-ridden Elizabeth Eastlake. What happens on Duma Key is the power of creation and destruction all in the paintings that Edgar creates when his missing arm itches the most.
Just like Bag Of Bones, the main character is beset with tragedy and overcomes it with creation. In Mike Noonan's case, he writes novels. In Edgar's case, he paints. In both cases, the art they create isn't their owns; they're merely the conduits for the dead or for the evil. While Duma Key is more interested in the power of recreation of truth via art, Bag of Bones is about more literary pursuits such as storytelling.
Stephen King is more of a storyteller than an "author" or "novelist" or "horror novelist". He tells stories like around a campfire. It's his major gift, that seemingly effortless ability to spin yarns. So that's why Bag of Bones is more successful as a treatise on art, because it speaks closer to King's own history.
That's not to say that Duma Key isn't an enjoyable read. I read it within a week. It was gripping and interesting and scary at times and heartbreaking all at once. King knows how to twist the knife in your heart and make you care about the characters. But the novel has this been-there-done-that feeling.
King's prose and characters are still at the same level you're used to. He still employs his trademark coining of phrases as shorthand for the scariest of elements. He still employs the dark historical secret of the location of the haunting. And he still uses the ghosts in the story as metaphors for memories, in addition to evil entities. It's a good horror novel but....
I think that if I hadn't read Bag of Bones, I would have loved Duma Key rather than just liked it. I still recommend the novel for fans of King, but not really for the non-fan.