Stephen King adds painful authenticity to Duma Key
Best-selling author's own near-death experience fuels narrative
Stephen King fans hungry for the best-selling author to write something scary again can finally eat their fill. After non-horrific, although still excellent, novels such as Lisey's Story and Blaze, King has delivered a superb fright fest with his latest, Duma Key.
Duma Key is the story of Edgar Freemantle, a happily married, prosperous businessman who is severely injured in an accident at a construction site. Edgar is a broken man after the incident; devastated by pain and finding it difficult to speak coherently, he is consumed with anger and eventually drives his wife away.
Edgar's doctor urges him to find something that makes him happy, and the only thing he can think of is that he used to enjoy sketching. So he takes a one-year lease on a house in Florida and moves to Duma Key, determined to become an artist. It's a beautiful and tranquil spot, perfect for a man who wants to leave his previous life behind and create himself anew. He begins to paint and starts to heal.
Life is finally starting to go well again for Edgar -- his paintings are attracting attention, he's forming a real friendship with his new buddy Hardman, his relationship with his daughter is strong -- when all hell breaks loose. Perhaps literally. Bad things begin to happen, from haunting dreams and visions to actual malevolent physical presences.
It's unclear at first what exactly is happening. Edgar is sure, however, that Duma Key is affecting things -- him in particular -- in ways that aren't necessarily good. With Hardman's help, he starts investigating the island's history, and what he finds in the past is only half as frightening as what eventually happens in the present.
King visited the subject of an artist who uses his craft to help rehabilitate from devastating injuries in his brilliant book Misery. This time around, the plot takes on even greater poignancy, with readers knowing that King himself suffered from catastrophic injuries several years back when he was nearly killed in a car accident.
When Edgar fumes over his foggy memory, when he agonizes over his inability to walk, it's easy to imagine the author doing those same things. This adds a sense of painful authenticity to the story, but it also evokes a strong feeling of hope once Edgar starts to recover and create his art again.
As with many of King's works, Duma Key is a doorstopper of a book, clocking in at more than 600 pages. But unlike some of his novels, it never feels bloated. Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert likes to say that no good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough. Duma Key is precisely the right length.
From the Chicago Sun-Times, January 20, 2008