Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Reading: DUMA KEY by Stephen King

My impressions of DUMA KEY come tempered by two facts: 1) Despite the fact that PET SEMATARY completely traumatized me as a teenager--in a good way, I should add--and that I, like many others, consider many of King's early novels (SALEM'S LOT, THE DEAD ZONE, et al) land-marks in contemporary horror fiction, I have read very, very little of his recent out-put; and 2) I currently live within the same zip code as King's fictional key, which starts on the south end of Casey Key, where King himself resides during part of the year. True story: a couple of years ago, King walked out of the Shell station where I frequently fill up, and I made an utter dork of myself by waving to him from a distance. He waved back, a twinky in his hand, before getting back in his car and driving back toward the flying bridge that separates Casey Key from the mainland. My brush with greatness.

And DUMA KEY is great. I have not heard positive things about works like THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, but this novel stands as a testament to a formidable imagination. In fact, on some level, DUMA KEY is about the artistic imagination, perhaps a sign that after writing for decades, King has developed complex ideas about the power of the creative process. The main narrative of the novel involves Edgar, the owner of a construction company, who loses an arm and much of his cognitive powers after a bad accident. During the recuperative process, his wife divorces him, and he finds himself looking for new digs to recover himself and find a way to enjoy life again. This search leads him to Duma Key, a sparsely populated island, where he rents an oppulent house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There, he begins sketching and painting, something he did during an earlier stage of life, and soon strange images begin manifesting themselves on his canvas, images connected to the haunted past of the key and the old woman still living there. Their lives intersect in a creepy fashion, involving set-pieces that include a ghost ship with tattered sails, ghastly corpses that stagger in from the surf, a dilapidated mansion hidden in the key's shrubbery, and a malevolent entity that, in Lovecraftian fashion, appears connected to a time of "elder gods."

Despite its 700+ pages, the novel's narrative still feels tight and lean, a testament to King's story-telling prowess. Scrupulous readers might feel that some information gets repeated too often--in fact, one might tire of the repetition of certain axioms by Wireman, a character close to Edgar. Nevertheless, King achieves an exciting build-up in action, leading to a breathless climax in the aforementioned mansion.

In closing, I want to add a few words about a very minor character in the novel, a man who walks up and down Casey Key holding a "gnarled briarwood cane, almost as tall as he is, and a big straw hat on his head"--he's an actual person who, up until a year or so ago, I'd pass on the road quite often!


Arlene deWinter said...

Hi! I found you through one my fave blogs Sexy Witch! I am glad I found you! How fun is this blog!
I have a story for you.
My freshman year in college at Worcester State in Massachusetts, I had a poetry professor who one day was moaning that he couldn't make a living writing.
"My best friend just got a film contract for his book. Salem's Lot!I have to admit I'm envious..."
Thought you might appreciate that degree of separation.

The Headless Werewolf said...

Thanks for stopping by, Arlene. Sexy Witch is one of my favorite blogs as well. Thanks also for sharing that great story about SALEM'S LOT.

The Nobody said...

Hi Werewolf! The Nobody here wants to say that DUMA KEY is one of my favorites. Absolutely engaging characters and endlessly creepy. Having him shift from Maine to Florida may seem hard to swallow for some readers, but you would never be able to tell he is new to the area. He writes this haunted tale just as well as many others. INSOMNIA is still my number 1!!

The Headless Werewolf said...

Thanks for chiming in, Nobody. King does a nice job of evoking the uniqueness of Florida--barring the fact that he decides to name out-of-season hurricanes "Alice."

James said...

Great review - one of a number of King novels I haven't read yet. Interesting that he set it in Florida. I don't think I've read anything by him that hasn't been set in his usual stomping ground, Maine. Love your blog - keep up the great work. :P