I don’t know what it is with me and lengthy books. First Shantaram, an epic mammoth of a read, followed by Duma Key, written by Stephen King, an author well known for piling the pages. It was a healthy read, and an enjoyable one, with several thoughts brought to me along the way.
Firstly, I think it’s safe to say Stephen King’s works can be a bit hit and miss, especially of late. He has written some masterpieces in his time (my favourite being It, but Revival was pretty sound, too), but a couple of his pieces have started to feel a little saturated. It almost feels as if he has become his own protagonist from Misery, Paul Sheldon, who writes work for money, out of demand, when the passion runs dry. Considering he churns out books by the bucket load, it’s probable for some of them to not hit the mark. Indeed, I imagine many readers of celebrated authors will love anything they’re given, because of the name rather than the quality of what’s written.
Okay. To the book.
This one is certainly a step up from some of his previous stuff. The main character is clearly thought through, and it’s refreshing to live and breathe a person so heartfelt and true. His family is relatable, his friends are reliable, and the beginning premise is a sound one: A man goes to a remote island in search of a retreat after a life-threatening accident. He loses his arm, his marriage, and contemplates ending his life. He goes to Duma Key, a picturesque, isolated island in Florida, where he rediscovers his old love for painting. Except here, when he paints, sometimes he paints real life. And sometimes, he can make real life happen.
I particularly enjoyed the first two thirds of the book. The setup is fascinating, and the slow burn of information slowly fed to the reader kept me on my toes, and intrigued over what was on the next page.
The last third did admittedly become a little silly. Characters having skills that just happen to save them from certain death, though it was never established before; last minute realisations that bore no relation to the rest of the book… To me, it felt as if King just didn’t know how to conclude his story, which is a shame, because as I said, the first two thirds were fascinating.
My issue, I think, is not with the book itself, but with its genre.
Stephen King’s works are labelled “Horror”. So, naturally, when I read his work, I expect to be horrified. It was terrifying, the ending of Revival was spine-tingling, The Shining was chilling, but while Duma Key had its chilling moments, on occasion, it felt very misplaced. I just wasn’t scared enough. If anything, it was more of a fantasy book with a touch of creepy. And yet, his typical “horror” terminology, with the blood and the gore and the rest, was all there, simply to fit within the expectation of his readers. It brought my attention to Horror as a genre, and the question of whether it’s justifiable to define an author’s entire career by the books that started him off. Surely, it’s up to the publishers to tell him it doesn’t quite fit, or to market it differently? Perhaps if I had begun with a different preconception in mind, it may have changed my opinion of the sudden change in the latter section of the book.
But perhaps this is just me. A friend once said to me, “your book may have scary elements, but don’t label it horror because it suddenly makes appears a little trite, as if it’s trying to be scary.” And I may have to agree, to an extent. Unless the work is masterfully scary, labelling it as such is setting oneself up for a fall.
My rating: 3.5/5