by Curt Holman
In early January, I heard a favorable review of Stephen Kingâs soon-to-be-published Duma Key on NPR. The mere fact that heâs 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 âcleared the decksâ in anticipation of reading it upon publication the last week of January.
Duma Key was â¦ 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 giftâs 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 Kingâs idiosyncrasies. In all of his books, at least one character talks in âfolksyâ clichÃ©s that sound like nothing youâve 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 âConstant Readerâ 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. Iâve skipped over at least half a dozen of his books (such as the recent Liseyâs Story). I wouldnât pick him as my all-time favorite writer, and I canât claim to âknowâ 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, heâs the one I âgrew up with.â Heâs 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.