Duma Key

By: Stephen King
Published By: Scribner

Duma Key: A Novel

I cheated. I read the Amazon reviews of this book before starting my own. And while I had not yet articulated it, I find that I agree with the comments made by the non-ravers among the reviewers.

First let me say that I read this book, all umpty-zillion pages of it (never let it be said that Mr. King is not verbose) in one sitting. Well, ok, I had the flu and spent an entire day in bed reading and napping. Nevertheless, I did read it straight through and was never really bored. (Though I do agree with one Amazon reviewer that the promise of the first half of the book was never met by the payoff of the second half.)

More importantly, I agree with a couple of the non-ravers who expressed a certain amount of distaste for the "preciousness" of the dialog. I'm not sure I would have used the word "precious," though it fits. Too cool for school is probably how I would have phrased it.

The specific dialog at issue is the pseudo-hip, best-friends-in-the-dorm kind of banter between Edgar and Wireman that takes up many pages in a very big book. "'Fuck you,' I said, and we were back on track." (Or something to that effect.)

Edgar is an over-fifty (though he never sounds much older than 30, except in conversations with his daughters)former developer who has lost an arm, some of his eyesight, and much of his memory to a construction site accident. (One of King's themes is amputation, it seems, this turning up in more than one of his books.) Edgar's former life self-destructs due to the changes the head trauma has wrought (Edgar cannot find words, has anger management issues, and has fundamentally become a new person). Divorced, physically impaired, and mentally anguished, the wealthy invalid opts for a "geographical" cure on a remote Florida Key - Duma Key.

Arriving there, Edgar embarks on a program of walking, resting, and drawing. And soon the drawing takes on the supernatural overtones that are King's standard fare.

While discovering prodigious artistic talent, and retraining his body to walk, think, and function, Edgar also befriends two quirky characters who just happen (wink, wink, nod, nod) to also have suffered head injuries: Wireman and Elizabeth. Wireman is a former lawyer who has a bullet lodged in his brain thanks to a failed suicide attempt, and Elizabeth is the elderly lady he cares for who owns the island and who is fading away into incipient Alzheimer's. She too, as a child, suffered a life-altering head injury.

The three form an immediate bond of love and affection (which I find both the most endearing and annoying characteristic of a King book: I like the fact that his characters do seem to care deeply for one another; I dislike the fact that the caring seems to spring from nothing more than a shared fondness for citing old song lyrics and book quotes).

And then things start to get odd.

Turns out Edgar's artistic talent is more than just a late-bloomer's discovery that he can draw pretty pictures. A mysterious force is at work on the island, and Edgar is not the first who has been pulled into its power.

Above caveats noted, King serves up a detailed, lively, generally well-written thriller that displays his unusual facility for plot and mood.

Oh, and one more thing: please, Stephen, lose the gratuitous political references. We get it, you don't like Bush, you did like Kerry, and you are not a big fan of the Republicans in general. The snide asides do nothing to advance the story or build the characters, they just make you look petty.


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