Title: Duma Key Author: Stephen King
Published: Pocket Books (2008)
Stephen King is sometimes accused of having lost a step, that his books are hit-and-miss nowadays. I'm not convinced of this. The man has been fortunate enough to make a career out of telling stories, many of which have resonated with a vast readership, and a fair amount of his imagination has seeped into the American lexicon. We cling to his classics like gospel, however, and that tends to create an aversion to the new. Add that with the fact that a person evolves over time, both personally and professionally, and it's a damned miracle King hasn't lost a step. He may not be the same writer who gave us Carrie and Salem's Lot, but it is unfair who expect him to be.
With Duma Key, King gives readers a chilling story of rebirth and renewal for a fallen man, a man who is quite literally damaged goods. Edgar Freemantle made his fortune in real estate development, married his true love, and raised two beautiful daughters. Then, one day, his life was torn apart in a horrific construction accident. He suffered severe head trauma and lost his right arm--he's a southpaw, so that's one bullet dodged--and the aftermath of the accident creates too great a strain on his marriage. He's divorced, his kids are off to college, and he's out of the house with no direction or real will to live. But, when he is begrudgingly convinced by his psychologist to move someplace else as a way to jump start his new life, he for some reason choose the Florida Keys--Duma Key to be precise.
At first while reading this novel, I thought it a bit of a contrivance that Edgar would be a millionaire. But as I read, I felt it worked. His life was luxurious yet humble, and when he's thrown the mother of all curve balls--more of a monkey-wrench--he has to face a hard life while still being surrounded by an idyllic setting and more money than he can shake a stick at. Wealth can't mend brain damage or a marriage ... not yet anyway.
While on Duma Key, Edgar meets up with the only two permanent residents on the island, Elizabeth Eastlake and her caretaker, the Wireman. It is through these two that Edgar helps find both a path to redemption and to merciless torment. As I read this book, Wireman became one of my favorite Stephen King creations in recent memory, and I rooted as much for his story as I did for Edgar's. And I think that's what makes this book such a treat to read, and so painless to read considering it's nearly eight hundred pages. King creates very genuine characters even when they seem a bit familiar. There's something about the Wireman that reminds me of other characters in books and film, but I haven't put my finger on it.
If there are gripes about this novel, I suspect it is the pace and the somewhat subdued suspense. Oh, there's suspense in this book, but I think this story leans more towards The Green Mile than it does The Shining. Those are unfair comparisons anyway, as I already mentioned how King isn't the same man today that he was when creating those other works. But, there's enough there to draw a line and see hints of it. The atmosphere of the story is fantastic and reminds me of some of those great haunted house stories. We've got more of a haunted island story here, but that's fine.
I did find it strange how quickly the pace shifted in the last act of the story, though. For much of the story, there is this brooding and foreboding vibe coming off the pages. And in the big climax, it comes perilously close to turning into an Indiana Jones Meets The Mummy kind of tale. It all works, thankfully, and the book is a really fun read as a whole. The sparse moments when it feels like the story is about to stall are fleeting and there always seems to be a twist that gives the reader something new to chew on.
It's probably one of the most mature novels I've read of King's work. That's not necessarily an attribute that classifies it as better than his other work, but it's different and can be appreciated in that regard.