I haunted the library’s one-week express bookshelf, looking for Stephen King’s latest four novellas titled Full Dark, No Stars. I visited the shelf three different times at the Mid-Manhattan Library, hoping the supply would be replenished, but each time there would be no King—only Laurell K. Hamilton and Dean Koontz. I had finally picked up Peter Straub’s latest collection of short stories and resigned myself to that when I made one last pass near the One-Week Book Express and found a library cart nearby with King’s new book on it. So happy, I cracked it right open on the subway trip home to read the first story of the collection, “1922.”
This story ended up being my favorite in the book, dealing with a farmer right before the Great Depression who has a contrary wife. She has inherited land from her father that’s worth a lot of money and wants to sell it and move to the city where she can open a shop. Her husband wants to add the land to his and farm it. Since he can’t talk his wife into what he wants, he decides to kill her, enlisting the help of his fourteen-year-old son, and that of course is just the beginning of their problems.
Shortly after the man murders his wife, rats begin to plague him, but these aren’t normal rats—they’re supernatural rats the size of house cats, which seem to equal the amount of guilt that he carries around with him. That’s what got me the most in this story—the crippling guilt that the farmer and his son carry around with them after doing the deed. It’s like a palpable mass that is much more frightening, I think, than the rats could ever be. I read this story in broad daylight on the subway and it terrified me, yet was so engrossing that I almost missed my stop. That almost never happens.
All of the novellas are related by characters with two selves—the light, good public face that most of the world sees and then the dark, evil face or self that comes out during the worst times. In “A Good Marriage,” the good wife “Darcy supposed that if she had been able to tell her mother what she was looking for, if she had explained about the Darker Girl who wasn’t quite her, she might have passed some time with a child psychiatrist. But it wasn’t the girl who interested her, it had never been the girl. What interested her was the idea that there was a whole other world behind the mirrors, and if you could walk through that other house (the Darker House) and out the door, the rest of that world would be waiting.”
Poor Darcy gets to see beyond her husband’s public face, and then finds herself immersed in that Darker House, and a darker world.
Full Dark, No Stars ended up being a satisfying read, and I finished it before the week was up. I’ll be thinking about identity and duality in a dark way for a while after the way King has tilted them in his novellas.