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Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Duma Key" by Stephen King

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Duma Key” by Stephen King
Reviewed By: David Craddock

"The devil's in the details." No phrase better encapsulates and articulates the reason for Stephen King's accomplishments. Even King himself admits that some critics have never and probably will never "get" what he does—but that's just fine. Any fan of Stephen King's knows not to be intimidated by the largest or smallest of his tomes. As pages turn, words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, and paragraphs evolve into chapters that masterfully chronicle a memorable character's life such that readers can believe they have known the character since birth.

Duma Key”, King's newest addition to the 'K' section of bookstores everywhere, is no exception, and effortlessly stands as one of his greatest tales yet. “Duma Key” follows the exploits of Edgar Freemantle, a wealthy building contractor who was involved in a near-fatal accident that bartered his right arm in exchange for life. Just as with Paul Sheldon in “Misery”, Edgar's story begins shortly after his accident. A newly-christened amputee, Edgar's new condition has bestowed upon him fits of rage, gaps in his vocabulary, and a wife who decides to leave her husband after he attempts to choke her to death.

Problem is, Edgar remembers doing no such thing. Upon his wife's insistence that the event did happen and that it was the catalyst that prompted her to leave him, Edgar is plagued with another bout of rage and flicks his stump at her, noting that it is his way of flipping her off. "Get out of here, you quitting birch," Edgar says. "Bitch, Edgar," his wife replies. "The word is bitch."

It is Edgar's struggle to re-learn the most basic of actions, to move on with his "other life," as he calls it, that comprises the first 400 of “Duma Key's” approximately 600 pages, and not a single word is wasted. Edgar moves from Minnesota to Duma Key, a seemingly quiet island located off of Florida's gulf coast. There, "I can do this" becomes Edgar's mantra as he weans himself off of his cane via slow, steady walks along the beach. His rage returns when he is unable to remember even the simplest of words ("Sit in the pal! The chum! The friend!") until he crossfires one thing—usually the word he needs—with something similar. He wonders: What word would be best for this situation? Perhaps there was an event that happened hours or days earlier, something someone said to him in passing, or maybe something an announcer mentioned on the radio. "I can do this," he thinks to himself, and slowly but surely, he does.

It is the readers' near-invasive ability to view Edgar's triumphs and defeats that allows him to become such a strong, relatable character. Just as with his other works, King sets a realistic pace that details both evolutions and setbacks. The humanness of Edgar Freemantle's struggle to adjust to a life without his family, without his old job and his old friend, without an appendage, is what makes his journey interesting, enjoyable, and intense.

Besides walking along the shoreline and listening to waves rustle through the shells beneath his rented beach house, "Big Pink," Edgar also takes up an old hobby lost under the shuffle of building contracts, meetings, and money from his old life: drawing. Just like most amputees, Edgar swears he can feel an itch crawling along his missing arm. Yet whenever he goes to scratch it, he (of course) grazes nothing but his bruised ribs. The problem, he realizes, is that he's trying to scratch an itch that doesn't exist with something tangible. Sometimes the itch is overwhelming enough to bring Edgar to his knees, and the only way it can be sated is to paint.

After being praised by his new friend Wireman , Edgar's artistic talent lands him in a world of art critics, galleries, and buyers willing to pay as much as $40,000 for a single one of his works. Just as his conversion from two-armed mogul to off-balance cripple, the process of Edgar's transition from one-armed man to artiste is expertly paced. King guides us through the experience of becoming a creative success by way of vicariously living through Edgar's terrifying and exciting process: the desire to run screaming out of an auditorium full of people who have come to hear what he has to say, and the eventual calm that settles in once he finds his groove; the nervousness yet excitement of knowing that Edgar's wife will be attending his first art show, as well as his eldest daughter and her fiancé, which causes him to wonder: Will they show? Do I want them to show? Maybe they just shouldn't come, or maybe they decided not to come—only to turn and see them smiling at you from across a crowded room of people, and to have those people melt into the background because they're here, they're really here, and that's what you wanted all along.

More than five-digit sales for a single painting, Edgar's passion for paint also brings unforeseen benefits. When Edgar paints, he can feel his right arm. Oh, he can't see it, but he knows it's there. He can feel his fingers drumming against a table, and can even feel his overgrown fingernails biting into his palm when he clenches his missing fist. Even better, Edgar discovers that his ability allows him to alter real people and settings. Using his apparent superpower, Edgar draws a portrait of a pedophile seen on his evening news, and then erases the sexual predator's nose and mouth, thereby suffocating him.

While Edgar's painting prowess eventually allows him to perform feats such as foretelling and curing otherwise-incurable ailments, it is Stephen King's talent for foreshadowing that makes “Duma Key” one of the author's most chilling stories yet. Edgar's story is narrated after-the-fact by Edgar himself, which means that King can drop hints to the story's outcome that are subtle enough to gently poke you in the side or powerful enough to make you sit up, drop the book, and cry out in shock, sadness, or horror.

Starting with Edgar's telling statement that runs along the lines of "I wish I could have seen this person better, because it was the last time I ever saw them again," "Duma Key" had my heart racing and my sweat glands pumping all the way through the book's conclusion. Just like the ending of The Sixth Sense, readers will want to go back and read “Duma Key” to search for the clues they missed, as well as to re-read the segments that slapped them in the face with starkness.

Thankfully, most of the clues are, in fact, findable. Like any length of wool, some segments will inevitably fray, but the majority of “Duma Key's” questions, big and small, are answered. Through memorable characters such as Edgar, his daughter, and his friend Wireman to King's brilliant foreshadowing tactics and obsessive attention to detail, “Duma Key” is a wonderful read and this writer's personal favorite King novel.


Dark Wolf said...

I love Stephen King. And I think is one of the best authors in the world. He is more than a horror writer. His novels have depths, have human emotions and deep psychology. I enjoy his books and I'm certain I'll enjoy this one too.

daydream said...

Oh my god! I think I oughta start reading King right away. I hate procrastinating any longer! Can you tell me which is teh strongets of his books, because well Pet Semetary and Firestarter really didn't impress me much.

David Craddock said...

Dark Wolf:

The reasons you listed are exactly why I'm a Stephen King fan. He's more than just a horror writer. He knows how to give characters depth so that they are relatable no matter the genre he writes. I know you'll enjoy Duma Key!


I haven't read all of King's books, but I've read quite a few. Honestly, you can't go wrong if you start with Duma Key. It's his newest, but according to many critics, it's also one of his strongest. Following that, I recommend Misery, The Stand, and 'Salem's Lot. There are many, MANY other books, but those are my personal favorites.

Sara J. said...

Sounds good. He definitely has the flair and experience for great books. I haven't read anything newer from King in a while, but your review is making me reconsider... :)

daydream said...

Thank you David. I will be checking those out. I have a lot of books hidden in the house. I like buying a lot used ones whenever I can, but reading is a different subject!

Kimberly Swan said...

I haven't had a chance to read any of his more recent releases, but judging by the review I'll have to pick it up. :)

Dark Wolf said...

David I'm glad that I'm not the only one feeling the same about Stephen King.

Daydream I will recommend "The Talisman", "The Green Mile" and "It", those I enjoyed very much.

David said...

Duma Key is a good one. Glad you liked it too.

Gloria said...

I cannot wait to read this book! my favorite King books are The Stand, Cell, and The Green Mile.

Stacia said...

I've read quite a few Stephen King books but they've always been hit & miss with me. I love It & Misery & a handful of others but there were also quite a few that I didn't enjoy. I did recently receive a copy of Duma Key though. It made it's way towards the middle of my reading pile when it came home with me, but after reading your latest post, I'm even more interested in reading it & have decided to move it to the top of my pile after reading this review.

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