Friday, December 10, 2010
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (Scribner, 2010)
[Four novellas, reviewed over four consecutive days here at Macabre Republic.]
Today's Review: Big Driver
King is a proven master of the dire-straits narrative, and this novella ranks up there with books such as Misery and Gerald's Game. Cozy-mystery novelist Tess ___ is ambushed on a deserted country road, battered, raped, strangled, and left for dead (alongside her attacker's previous--and now putrescent--victims). She manages to find her way back to civilization and safety, but the harrowing ordeal has transformed Tess into a "New Woman" bent on some Old Testament-style retribution. But this isn't exploitative shlock, the literary equivalent of I Spit on Your Grave. King handles the sensitive subject matter deftly, and immerses readers in Tess's viewpoint, conveying her physical hurt, her psychological trauma (although Tess's imagined conversations with her cat and her GPS do grow a bit wearisome), her sense of outrage, and her dilemma over "her moral responsibility" (as she debates whether to report the crime, to keep it secret and prevent her public humiliation, or to take the law into her own hands and track down her attacker).
Like 1922 before it, Big Driver is a prime example of American Gothic fiction. King knows full well that American Gothic flourishes on the open road (where a person, having ventured beyond the confines of the familiar, constantly risks encountering adversity). Tess, whose trials trace back to the decision to take a shortcut home from a public speaking event, has learned the hard way that "there were many strange twists and devious turns as one hopped down the overgrown bunny-trail of life." The novella also broaches the theme of the secret identity, the Other lurking within; recognizing her transformation into not just a "survivor" but also a "killer," Tess wonders: "How many unsuspected selves could a person have, hiding deep inside? She was beginning to think the number might be infinite."
Judging by the numerous references to "the conventions of horror tales and mysteries"--not to mention revenge-fantasy films like Death Wish, The Brave One, and The Last House on the Left--King is self-aware that he is treading on some well-worn territory here. Still, the author uses his immense storytelling talents to make this tale uniquely his. Offering superb characterization and terrific plot twists, Big Driver is a gripping novella, one that seems the perfect vehicle for a feature film down the road.