Fiction Reviews

Duma Key

(2008) Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, 16.99, hrdbk, 583pp, ISBN 0-340-95219-1


Edgar Freemantle is a rich man in the construction industry and everything is just peachy, until one day an accident at work tears off his arm, shatters several bones and affects his memory. As he tries to put his life back together he takes out his frustration and anger on his wife until it all becomes too much and she divorces him, much to the displeasure of their kids. In order to recuperate better Edgar moves to a house on Duma Key, a beautiful strip of land off Florida's West Coast, privately owned by Elizabeth Eastlake. Soon Edgar strikes up a friendship with her carer, Wireman, and also discovers a talent for art, which is encouraged by everyone. Everything seems to be going really well, but Edgar finds some of his own paintings unsettling, especially those that feature a skeletal ship on the horizon. And then there is that abandoned estate at the end of the Key; when he and his daughter tried to visit it, she became violently sick and Edgar was not much better. But that was where Elizabeth grew up and she clearly knows a secret, if only the Alzheimer's would allow her to relate it... When Edgar has a gallery showing of his work, it is immediately very popular and the pictures sell well... Which is when Edgar realises he needs to get them back, because the paintings are a 'key' too, one which unlocks the way for an ancient terror to affect the living.

On the whole this is another page-turning outing for King and, as ever, his characters and situations are compelling. The story is a bit old hat, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, so long as the tale is well-told the reader can forgive any lack of originality. However, while it might seem strange to criticise King after more than thirty years for doing something he habitually does, in this case it is more intrusive (and damaging) to the story than I have previously noticed. Specifically we are talking about foreshadowing here. Now it is all very good, in its place; a little teaser in the text to set up something later on, another little hook to keep the reader engaged. Fine. No problem. But... Sometimes, if it is inappropriate, or clumsily handled, foreshadowing can give away too much, can rob the future event (once it is actually reached in the text) of the emotional impact it should have had. In this case, while trying not to inadvertantly give away a 'spoiler', there are two incidences that relate to Edgar's relationship with one of his daughters, a relationship which is at the very heart of this book, where King tells us something which, had he 'kept his mouth shut' so to speak, would have had a much greater impact when the event(s) happened than they did. In fact, because he did strongly foreshadow the event(s) in question, the effect was utterly ruined and did not carry one tenth of the emotional impact that should have occurred. One cannot help but wonder where the fault lies: Is King himself blind to what he is doing? Do his early-draft readers or his editor(s) not notice these faults? Or are they too frightened/enamoured of King to be able to tell him when heis messing up? Was it deliberate? Is it just that in this particular case King wanted to lessen the impact or shock of what was going to happen, because he knew it was likely to be painful to people caught up in the story/character? Perhaps we will never know and, hey, maybe it is just me, but the particular use of foreshadowing that I am thinking about damn near ruined this book for me. That caveat aside, this is the usual very readable book that you would expect from King, and will no doubt keep his legions of fans happy.

Tony Chester

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