Here it is, at last: I’ve reached the end of the ’80s in my Stephen King reread project. It took me longer than expected, but I made it. Overall, I had a damn good time.
The 1980s was, arguably, King’s most successful decade — at least as far as commercial appeal goes. He was a literary Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, et cetera. He was at the top of the bestselling lists and hit movie after hit movie adapted from his works was being released in theaters. He was, officially, a household name. During those years his kids got older; he became addicted to drugs and got clean (a process that casts a hue on almost every release from this period); he collaborated with Peter Straub on a fantasy novel and kicked the Dark Tower series into gear. It was a very productive time for King.
As I said, I had a good time rereading the releases from this decade. The point of my doing this is to see how my opinions change over time. That happens a lot, at least for me. I tend to read quickly and skim over things, so rereading novels is almost always beneficial. Firestarter was much better than I had previously thought; my opinion on Christine soured tremendously upon rereading. Stephen King’s works are more subtle than they appear; multiple takes are almost always fruitful.
So, The Dark Half. Released in 1989, this novel was SK’s farewell to the ’80s. It encapsulates so many motifs that had popped up in previous King works (a writer/family man as the protagonist, the theme of addiction and outrunning your desires, et cetera) that it, at first, seems borderline repetitive. It even partially takes place in Ludlow (town of Pet Sematary). The rest is set in Castle Rock. Talk about returning to familiar stamping grounds! (Not that I’m complaining; I love both of those towns.)
Hell, this book was in my bottom 5 for years and years. I thought it was a bit of a bore, I thought King’s writing was clunky, and . . . of course, I could never quite figure out what, exactly, George Stark is.
King doesn’t spell it out; he leaves some of the heavy lifting to the reader, which is . . . odd for him. He usually revels in explaining the how’s and why’s of his creations; here it is left up to interpretation. I believe Thad Beaumont has a “wild talent,” thanks to the absorption of his twin in utero (which developed in his brain as Thad himself developed). The impact this had on his neurotic development puts him amongst characters such as Carrie White, Danny Torrance, Charlie McGee, Johnny Smith, et cetera. Thad’s power is, of course, his wild imagination, his tendencies to imaginatively create, and the uncontrollable-when-triggered ability to extract and transform ideas into matter that physically impacts the world around him. By the story’s end, as George is falling apart and desperate to live and succeed on his own, it is apparent that Thad’s talent is not perfect and can be wildly unpredictable. There is much, much more I would like to say about this (for I feel I’ve done a piss poor job of explaining my theory), but Goodreads does have a review word limit. Boo!
Once I got more of a handle on what George Stark is (or possibly is, anyway), I was able to enjoy the ride much more. This is one of King’s leanest and meanest novels; it’s a nasty, bloody, thrilling affair with copious amounts of horror and crime investigation — more than enough to keep any reader turning the pages. However, gentler readers be warned: this one is not for the faint of heart. It’s a gloriously gory book, and King doesn’t shy away from every nasty detail. This was quite a welcome change after biggies like <i>It</i> and The Tommyknockers. I don’t quite know yet if this is now in my top 10, but it just might be. King’s exploration of art and addiction (two themes he goes back to again and again) is most compelling; he is not afraid to be bleak and ‘go there’; this novel’s ending struck me hard — the bad guy loses, but the good guys lose too. In this novel, there is no winning. Only the grim hope of possibly recovering from the carnage.
As I said before, a lot of The Dark Halftakes place partially in Castle Rock, placing this firmly in the same universe as The Dead Zone, Cujo, et cetera. References to those novels abound.
The Beaumont’s winter home is in Ludlow, Maine, which is where the Creed family lives in Pet Sematary.
Pg. 72 – Juniper Hill, a mental asylum first referenced in IT gets a mention.
At one point, Deputy Norris Ridgewick refers to himself as a lunkhead. Is that a wink and a nod to Creepshow? I’ll say yes.
“No, you don’t, Alan thought. You don’t understand what you are, and I doubt that you ever will. Your wife might . . . Although I wonder if things will ever be right between the two of you after this, if she’ll ever want to understand, or dare to lose you again. Your kids, maybe, someday . . . But not you, Thad. Standing next to you is like standing next to a cave some nightmarish creature came out of. The monster is gone now, but you still don’t like to be too close to where it came from. Because there might be another. Probably not; your mind knows that, but your emotions — they play a different tune, don’t they? Oh boy. And even if the cave is empty forever, there are the dreams. And the memories. There’s Homer Gamache, for instance, beaten to death with his own prosthetic arm. Because of you, Thad. All because of you.”