Duma Key, Stephen King’s most recent novel (hardcover published January 2008; now out in paperback), is a hefty supernatural thriller, a ghost story that just skirts the horror field and that borrows handily from several of King’s earlier works. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it – I have yet to meet a King novel that I didn’t like (Dolores Claiborne and Rose Madder being the closest things to such a blasphemous thought) – only that a true fan who has nearly read King’s entire catalogue will find familiar elements herein.
Edgar Freemantle, a Minnesotan developer/contractor, has a horrible on-site accident that severs his right arm and causes considerable brain damage. He also loses his wife who divorces him when she cannot deal with his post-accident aphasia and rages. Edgar’s therapist suggests a “geographic cure” and he soon finds himself renting a house on the west coast of Florida, on Duma Key. Once settled there, he discovers a heretofore hidden talent for painting, immersing himself in the work. These paintings are not just physical and emotional therapy, however; they’ve got some real (and disquieting) power to them.
Edgar also makes friends with his neighbors: the elderly Elizabeth Eastlake, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Wireman, her caretaker. As the new friendship develops, secrets from Elizabeth’s troubled childhood on Duma Key are revealed and an ancient evil is reawakened with Edgar in its sights.
As usual, King quickly draws the reader in with his talent for describing character and place. Duma Key is not flat-out horror and is less gory than many of his other books, relying on atmosphere and the characters’ mental struggles for most of the scares. It is also a discussion of art and what it does to both the artist and the observer; I suspect that King spends a lot of time thinking about his own art and both this book and his earlier Lisey’s Story (which I am just over halfway through) are his attempts to connect with what he does and how he feels about it.
I mentioned that there are some elements in this novel that echo some of King’s prior work. “The Road Virus Heads North” (a short story from Everything’s Eventual) is about a scary painting that comes to life and wreaks havoc on its purchaser; and Pet Sematary and the short story “Sometimes They Come Back” (Nightshift) are about being revisited by dead loved ones – and how that just never works out right. I certainly didn’t mind discovering these recurring themes in the new novel; they elicited a comfortable nostalgia, like running into an old friend. Even someone with Stephen King’s incredible imagination must run a bit shallow every now and again. I give Duma Key a solid B+ in the King collection report card: not quite up to the standards of The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot or The Stand, but a solid and entertaining entry nonetheless.
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