Reading Stephen King: Epilogue at Duma Key

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In early January, I heard a favorable review of Stephen King’s soon-to-be-published Duma Key on NPR. The mere fact that he’s mentioned on NPR, let alone favorably, indicates the rehabilitation of his rep. I didn't feel the same excitement I may have felt 10 or 20 years ago, but immediately reserved it at the library and “cleared the decks” in anticipation of reading it upon publication the last week of January.

Duma Key was … pretty good. It contains echoes of earlier King books. Like The Dead Zone, the main character gets psychic powers after a catastrophic accident. Like Bag of Bones, he becomes involved in a gothic family mystery, this one wrapped up in the history of the South Florida coast. Would that one could unpack all of its autobiographical implications: The main character uses painting to recover from his near-death experiences, but grows suspicious of his success and his gift’s ominous implications. In Dreamcatcher, the first novel King wrote after his accident, I believe three of the four protagonists suffered either car wrecks or leg injuries, but Duma Key more deeply explores the psychological wounds of such accidents.

The book features some of King’s idiosyncrasies. In all of his books, at least one character talks in “folksy” clichés that sound like nothing you’ve ever heard a real person actually say. But King still shows a real gift for conveying male friendship, and his narrative prowess really kicks in during the last 150 pages or so of the book, when the long-simmering plot finally boils over.

Duma Key's "Afterword" suggested where he and I stood after 30 years of ups and downs.

As in many of his books, Stephen King addresses his audience as “Constant Reader” in "Afterwords" and "Acknowledgements" pages, and he continues to do so despite his threat to quit. But is he talking to me? Despite having read him for 30 years, I cannot honestly say I qualify as Constant Reader. I’ve skipped over at least half a dozen of his books (such as the recent Lisey’s Story). I wouldn’t pick him as my all-time favorite writer, and I can’t claim to “know” anything about him except what he chooses to put in print. Being a critic, I probably qualify more as a Contentious Reader.

Like few other writers, however, he’s the one I “grew up with.” He’s been a literary and cultural fixture in my life for at least three decades, which counts for something. Even though we may have our differences, I hope he continues to be so for at least three more.

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