Books

Duma Key by Stephen King

Chauncey Mabe
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

Stephen King's spooky, Florida-set Duma Key revives his gift for suspense. King is at the height of his powers.


Duma Key

Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 9781416552512
Author: Stephen King
Price: $28.00
Length: 611
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-01
Amazon

Duma Key, Stephen King's terrific new novel, constitutes a return to form for a beloved pop novelist who has seemed, for many years now, to be running out of steam. His recent output, though scarcely less protean than before he announced retirement in 2002, has been spotty at best. This could most readily be ascribed to the 1999 accident, in which he nearly died after being run down by a van near his home in Maine, but might as easily be seen as the result of a continual conflict between his very great literary gifts and a steadfast allegiance to the pulp fiction that formed his sensibility as a boy.

For after garnering serious critical attention in the 1990s for psychological suspense novels like Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game, which seemed to be moving toward a mature and happy marriage of entertainment and literature, he returned, perhaps spooked by the attention, to the familiar comforts of the kind of horror novel that first made his name in the 1970s. Bag of Bones (1998), a big sloppy mess of a ghost story, in particular appeared a willful repudiation of the impulse toward more refined work.

These are, of course, the musings of a reviewer who knows King through only a selective reading of his vast body of work, and may well be off the mark. But when King became a columnist for Entertainment Weekly in 2003, writing off-the-cuff reactions to popular culture, it was impossible not to take it as the effort to remain in the public eye by a novelist, his creative spark ebbing, whose best stuff lay behind him.

Perhaps Duma Key's setting -- it is King's first Florida novel -- accounts for its fresh vigor and supreme craftsmanship, or perhaps it is the courage with which he confronts the aftereffects of a horrible accident on his hero, Edgar Freemantle, a Minnesota building contractor. No matter. It's first-rate entertainment and, the lurid cover notwithstanding, a novel the most effete reader can take up without embarrassment.

After nearly dying in a work-site mishap that takes his right arm and leaves him brain-damaged and enraged, Freemantle seeks, on the advice of his therapist, a "geographic cure" by moving to a barrier island off the southwest coast of Florida. His wife, Pam, frightened by his anger and exhausted by his arduous physical rehabilitation, has left him, and his two grown daughters, one estranged, the other close, are worried about his welfare.

On Duma Key Freemantle, always a doodler, takes up drawing, and then painting, discovering a hitherto unsuspected natural talent that astonishes him and everyone to whom he tentatively shows his pictures. He is befriended by his only neighbors, a wealthy elderly woman, Elizabeth, and her caretaker, Wireman, a former lawyer whose suicide attempt left him blind in one eye and able to read for only five minutes at a stretch. Freemantle slowly regains his health and equilibrium, painting daily in an odd trance, and soon makes other friends, whose kindly regard draws him out of his self-imposed isolation.

But Freemantle comes to suspect a supernatural aspect to his sudden artistic gifts -- his paintings have the power to alter things in the real world. As King expertly peels back layers of suspense and back story, Edgar realizes he has been drawn to Duma Key, which seems to want desperately wounded people for its own occult purposes. The island, no surprise, is haunted -- by ghosts, memories, and an elemental evil of immense power and malice. Freemantle, whose destiny becomes entwined with the traumas of Elizabeth's long-forgotten childhood, must confront his own fears and disabilities to forestall further harm to friends, loved ones, and, in the end, the world.

At 611 pages, Duma Key is a hefty tome, but it reads, in the best possible way, like a much shorter book. Like J.K. Rowling, King is no prose stylist, but then, style is only one arrow in a writer's quiver, and his gift for character, suspense and theme -- and that irresistible narrative voice -- are more than enough. He takes his time -- the early passages deal entirely with Freemantle's accident, recovery and family difficulties -- but at no point does the narrative seem pokey or padded.

King is at the height of his powers with Duma Key, allowing him to exploit such themes as family conflict, the mixed blessing of artistic talent, the nature of masculine friendship and loyalty, and the possibility of redemption for even those most broken in body and spirit. He displays an impressive sympathetic understanding of childhood, and his depiction of the relationship between a father and his daughters is no less sound.

That all this comes in a rousing re-invention of the ghost story diminishes King's achievement not a bit.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image