December 12, 2010, - 5:01 pm

Book Review: “Full Dark, No Stars” By Stephen King

By Debbie Schlussel

I have ambivalent feelings toward “Full Dark, No Stars,” Stephen King’s latest novel. It’s different than most of his books, in that there are four lengthy “short” stories, rather than one. So, in that respect, I guess it’s not technically a novel. But that’s not why I have mixed emotions.

While I couldn’t put this book down at times, it was just soooo dark and depressing. And the book is graphic in its grisly murders and assaults (not to mention, explicit language). Plus, the one victim in the book who takes just revenge feels guilty about her vengeance and wants to tell the world. Such a liberal. And King’s anti-Christian, anti-religious worldview is evident, in that at least two characters shout to you–or rather, King proudly shouts on their behalf to you–that they don’t believe in G-d. Still, perhaps I am wrong about that, since at least one of those who doesn’t believe in G-d gets his in the end. And, in three out of the four stories, murderers pay in a poetic justice only G-d could mete out.

This is the first Stephen King book I have ever read, but the author indicates in the book’s postscript that this is the darkest stuff he’s ever written. Longtime readers of his will know better than I if this is correct. But each story–even the one that doesn’t involve deliberate acts of murder–is very dark. The one story in which the vengeance I applaud, takes place is also dark and empty. And even then, as I noted, King seems to voice–through his brutalized victim who perpetrates the vengeance–a sort of liberal guilt, liberal lack of confidence that she is doing the right thing, which makes you hate her a little bit.

As I noted, there are four stories. The first takes place in the early part of the 20th century on a desolate Midwestern farm. A man and his son plot to murder their respective wife and mother because she is bent on splitting up their farmland by selling to a large hog slaughtering company. They plan to do what they have to, to keep their peaceful farm, which has been in the family for a long time, as is. This is probably the most graphic and grisly of the stories. And perhaps the most depressing and dark. It’s also the longest and least interesting story in the book and has the most slow parts in it. But it has echoes of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.”

Then, there is female authoress who is brutally attacked in a setting that takes place in current times in New England, using the latest in technology. I sort of figured out what was going to happen–and who was responsible for it–toward the very beginning of this one. But it’s a fast read and it’s the one that involves the vengeance and heavily-worn liberal guilt. This one, too, is pretty grisly and parts of it are very hard to read. The coincidence at the end is a little too neat and tidy and not very credible.

The shortest of the stories is about a man who has the average, happy middle class American life with a wife and kids he loves. Still, it’s not enough, and he covets what his best friend–his life-long rival–has. And he makes a wish to change the course of things. Again, this one is extremely depressing. It’s the one without murder, and it is the least graphic. Still, it is more fantasy and “Twilight Zone” than the other stories. And it actually seems like a TZ episode I’ve seen, but lacking in the “just desserts”/poetic justice that the Rod Serling series always so sharply delivered.

And, finally, there is the story of a woman who discovers something very horrible about her husband . . . something that will change the course of her marriage forever. It’s based on a true story that was in the news not too long ago. And it’s the most believable. I liked this story the best of those involved. And this is the one I could most see as a movie. I especially liked the clever, avuncular character who visits the wife at the end.  He’s typical Hollywood stuff and endearing.

The world is full of horrible people, especially those reflected in this book. I fear people who read this might get ideas . . . the bad kind. But it’s not like there aren’t explicit murder novels filling library shelves. I just happen to be of the school of thought that the best thrillers and mysteries don’t need blood and gore to get your heart pounding with desire to reach the last page. And that’s kind of my view here.

If you like horror and suspense thrillers mixed with a large dose of the graphic and bloody and an equal dose of the dark and depressing, this is your book. If you’re looking for a more uplifting wrap-up to a deep, dark ride, this is probably not your book. The title is 100% accurate.

“Full Dark, No Stars” is exactly as advertised. There’s no light. But, like I said, it’s filled with suspense that makes you want to read on.


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25 Responses

Hi Debbie, Enjoyed your review. My sister & I used to read EVERY Stephen King book. He is very prolific. I can’t remember the title, but the last one I read was about spousal abuse & it was just too horrific, I could never open another one. I recommend you read my favorite two: THE SHINING and THE STAND.Also good is THE DEAD ZONE. They all are depressing, but just in differing degrees.

pam siegel zarte on December 12, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    King got over that period where he was soooo dark — writing about spousal abuse, etc. Actually this book is more like that period, with all the graphic violence. I thought it was cheap and shoddy — gratuitous slaps at Christians, with another story reading like a revenge flick where the stereotypical bad guys are cartoony (and blown-away in a cartoony way at the end).

    But he stopped doing coke and tequila after his almost-fatal accident (he reports in his nonfiction “On Writing”), and the graphic stuff went away (till now). Take a look at some things like “Insomnia” (his best), “Useful Objects,” or “Duma Key” (a close second.)

    Deb: This is a poor example of King’s work. Much of it is more like the third story — sort of Twilight-Zone-ish with supernatural themes.

    impeachthedude on December 12, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Debbie, if you want to read good King, try The Talisman, which he co-wrote with Peter Straub. The main character is heroic. The villains are villains (with no attempt to paint them as “depraved on accounta they’re deprived” or nonsense like that), and the heroes are heroes, without the so-common technique of giving them feet of clay.

Lisa on December 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Stephen King is the greatest author of the modern horror genre. No one else exploits the fears and forebodings we have about evil as well as he does…. if you like fantasy as opposed to horror, then King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower, sprawling seven novels is a far more interesting adventure.

And its not for his political views people read his novels and short story collections; that’s why every year, he’s Number One on the best-seller lists.

NormanF on December 12, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I remember several years back, Stephen King hurried to finish his Dark Tower series, so he could retire… Apparently he learned the definition of retire from Brett Favre’s dictionary. I thought the final two books to Dark Tower weren’t that great and have honored his retirement, even if he hasn’t. That is, I’ve not been bothered to buy any thing of his since then.

Brian R. on December 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Once a fan, his books have turned into tedium. As far as the horror genre, that is still led by Robert McCammo who still remembers how to mix horror, action and adventure. Something King has forgotten.

pat on December 12, 2010 at 9:35 pm

King’s best book:
“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

my .02

Doug on December 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm

If Mr. King is moving away from the formula plot writing he has gotten into for the last 15-20 years, I will look at him again. The architecture of his novels, such as “The Regulators” or “Needful Things”, were very similar in feel and tone, even though the plots were superficially different. In the first, you have a demonic force haunting a boy(watching a second rate western time and again), while in the other a demonic force manipulated people into committing homicide what were in some cases the most bizarre reasons(a woman killing over an Elvis fantasy). Those novels were not suspenseful, but rather tedious and overly long.

Stephen King’s earlier novels, such as “Carrie” and “The Shining” were better examples of his work before this ills of mass production set in.

Worry01 on December 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Ditto. A hack. Now a liberal to get fake praise.

    pat on December 13, 2010 at 1:09 am

His novels have been adapted into tele-series and films. That speaks to his stature.

No other American novelist has approached his dominance of the horror genre. Dean Koontz straddles the horror, suspense and sci-fi genres, although I’m inclined to think of him more as a sci-fi/suspense author.

NormanF on December 13, 2010 at 4:16 am

King hasn’t written anything worth reading since “The Dead Zone.” I’ve heard he uses his staff to write his books now, making him more of an editor than a writer.

Fleiter on December 13, 2010 at 9:49 am

It seems harder and harder to find book without a leftist slant. However a few good ones I’ve read recently are by Vince Flynn’s “American Assassin”, Brad Thor’s “Foreign Influence” and “The Athena Project”, and Daniel Silva’s “The Rembrandt Affair” all of whom aren’t afraid to have Islam as the major threat in the 21st century. I also read John Grisham’s “The Confession” about an innocent man on death row and the real killer decides to try and convince the powers to be since he has a deadly brain tumor, not bad considering he’s usually for the criminal and not the victim. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the above are made into films where they change the Muslims to Russians or Chinese since Hollywood seems dead set against portraying Islam as the real enemy. Also Silva seems to know a lot about art makes for interesting reading. Sorry to not write about King, but I just wanted to say that not all of today’s high profile authors are like King and his leftist agenda.

Marc on December 13, 2010 at 10:31 am

My main problem with King in the past has not been his leftist slant so much, but his slipping into formula plots. It is the literary equivalent of painting by the numbers. Or, it is what an assembly line product is to something produced through individual craftsmanship.

worry01 on December 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

I stopped reading Stephen King long ago. He just doesn’t write as well as he did early in his career. At one time, Stephen King had some very positive religious Christians in his fiction. Remember Mother Abigail, in The Stand?
You want pro-Israel, anti-Communist suspense fiction? Read early Peter Abrahams: The Fury of Rachel Monette, Tongues of Fire, Red Message, Pressure Drop. I also recommend some of his later books, like Oblivion and The Tutor.

Miranda Rose Smith on December 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Another at-one-time-magnificant, pro-Israel, anti-Communist suspense novelist who slipped into formula and got boring is Gerald Seymour.

Miranda Rose Smith on December 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

King has had a problem with organized religion, especially Christianity going back to his first book Carrie, but he is definitely not an atheist. When he wrote an obituary for his friend Stephen Jay Gould, it turned out that a large part of their relationship had been spent debating God’s existence, with King pro and Gould anti. Here is a paragraph from the piece:

“Once I wrote a vernacular version of the Book of Genesis (”The Street Kid’s Genesis,” I called it) and sent it to him. He wrote back about it at length, calling it a fascinating study of nomenclature. His enthusiasm, like his tumbling forelock, was a part of him. He added, almost in passing, that he did not believe in God. I told him that was fine, God believed in him, and he laughed his cheery laugh. ”I’m flattered to be part of the Eternal’s belief system,” he said.”

MonkeyShines on December 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

King is King. King is also an intellectual who leans predictably left in his leaning tower but that never diminishes his creativity and genius for making us cringe. When he’s good he’s very,very good. Enjoyed your review so I’ll probably pick up the book.
Here’s a thought. You have literary skills, strong opinions, and a wealth of perspectives. Have you tried your hand at fiction? I would think you would be good at it. As we enjoy you factual reporting and opinion pieces, I think we’d enjoy seeing where your creative dark side may take us also.

traditionalbill (William Burton) on December 13, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Wow. This sounds right up my dark alley. I’ll check it out even thou’ I don’t read fiction anymore.

USED to be a big King fan. Trouble is, he struggles with a good ending. They always go flacid. His short stories are better. I like his signature theme of there is always one a-hole in the crowd to mess it up for everyone.

I did re-read “The Stand” last year. Read first as a teen and I loved it. Now, long an adult, I didn’t like it as much. Sometimes he writes so bloody well, then it gets boring and lazy. Some of the characters annoyed me as an adult (in “The Stand”) that didn’t as a teen.

I liked “It” too. Ending sucks, but that’s SK for you.

My writing hero is Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). Loved his style and boy was he funny.

Skunky on December 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I read The Stand decades ago, when it first came out, and thought it was good, but a little too long. It sagged in the middle.

Cujo was WAY too long; it would have been much better as a novelette ot long short story.

Miranda Rose Smith on December 14, 2010 at 8:23 am

I used to read King just to be enteratined in that certain shallow way. But, then I attended a college graduation (at a minor Ivy League college) where he was the guest speaker. OMG! What a dope! What a jerk! What a narcissist! He spoke ad nauseum about how great he was and how the graduates could not expect to ever be that great(he was not joking). He showed no respect for others. It is almost amazing that such a jerk can write at all. I’ll never read anything written by him again.

Cat K on December 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    That’s a great shame. Perhaps he was referring to the large and unexpected success of his books, rather than his own talent.

    Jennifer on December 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I detest Stephen King. I have read eleven of his books, but will not read any more because he is disgusting. Tommyknockers had 200 pages devoted to an anti-nuke diatribe. (the main character was a professional speaker who specialized in the danger of nuclear power). That’s right, 200 pages! Carrie is just one of many of his books where he slams serious Christians, painting them as dangerous extremist kooks. Shawshank Redemption is nothing more than a very schmaltzy, dishonest prisoner rights manifesto. I could go on, but he is not worth discussing because he not only “predictably leans left,” he has made it his main mission in life (along with making a pile of money).


B: Amen. Well said. DS

Burke on December 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Thank you for the warning, Debbie! Great review. If you have any interest in furthering your King reading, “After Sunset” is one of his best anthologies; you have my personal recommendation on that. One of the greatest mixes of his different subject matters. His novel “Carrie” is heartbreaking, but didn’t feel too much so for me; it’s another one of his best.

King was raised in a Christian home and, while he doesn’t always honor God, he is clearly often influenced by Him and His type of work in his stories, I’ve noticed. There’s often an undercurrent of morality.

Jennifer on December 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Great post, monkeyshine. I’m glad to hear that God lingered with him.

I disagree that he mocked all religious people in Carrie or has a problem with endings. “Carrie” and “Misery” had awesome ends. “Misery” btw is another classic, a sometimes stunning character piece. I’m surprised by the accusations that he slipped into a formula; he has a style all right, but I never know what to expect from him in a short story.

Jennifer on December 29, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Well this review certainly has brought out a lot of opinions, speculation, and possible facts. It has been interesting reading all the comments as interesting as the review that they felt necessary to comment on.

I hope you will look into other King novels my personal recommendation are to start with his short story collections as they seem to best capture the range and depth of the author. I think this is somewhat a natural occurrence as a writer writes short stories throughout his/her carer this would be the best source to see what the author is capable of creating.

I personally like a lot of King’s works but I read them for pleasure not to analyze them and pick them apart I like how they feel which is to say I like the way I am pulled into the story. There are a plethora of other authors that I also like but as this is a review on king’s work I limit my comments to his work.

Try the following books
Night Shift 1978
Skeleton Crew 1985
Nightmares & Dreamscapes 1993
Everything’s Eventual 2002
Just After Sunset 2008

Just my two cents. Thank for the review and thanky you all for the comments.

Neil on January 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

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