13 September 2015
There is only one problem with being Stephen King. You gain literary omnipotence and editors are unable to say "NO" to you. Everything is an instant hit. Duma Key has left me sitting on the fence and a touch cold.
But firstly, the story in brief: Edgar (a millionaire in construction) loses his right arm and memory in a terrible construction accident. He recovers with a kind of amnesia, soon becomes divorced and moves to DUMA KEY in Florida (as a geographical cure) a suggestion by his psychiatrist. While there he rediscovers his love of painting. But his paintings are more than just that. They hold something deeper and perhaps more sinister.
Not a bad premise, I thought.
The first 30 or so percent was typical Stephen King. Yes, it was compelling. Yes, it was nuanced. Yes, it was relatively complex. But... then there were so many long walks, meaningless chats, repetitive encounters and passages. So many in fact that at times I thought I was on the wrong page or had bumped my head.
And yet, I had the distinct feeling that I, the reader, was being set up for something very big. So, I read and read and read, attempting to imagine where the journey could or might end. And in the process the writing became forced and contrived just before the halfway mark. The middle being about 400 pages. That for me is a lot of time to invest in something that begins to sail slowly around and around destinations that are simply not that interesting.
Sometimes the boat (Mr King) pulling into a harbour where there is nothing of any appeal; the harbour being more of that character development, or another passage that I had already covered once, twice, three times, usually about the coral under the house.
It was also at around the halfway point that I realized, guessed, stumbled upon the twist or the secret within the work. So arriving at the finishing line was a little disappointing.
Having said that, Mr. King was still able to conjure the creepy moments that have made him the name he is. He described in great detail the pain of the protagonist, obviously based on his own experience. Many people believe that this novel reflects King’s state of mind when he himself was recovering from being struck by a car while he was out walking. He almost died in the accident.
King evokes unadulterated evil with ease even to this day. But the plot was dying a slow death because of this incessant character development, which he seemed to languish over for far too long ( a little like I am doing now). I just wished he would say what he meant and be done with it. The book became weaker and weaker as it languidly sailed along, seemingly without a breeze to help it reach land. It remained out in the middle of a still and uninteresting ocean. Actually, come to think of it, it was like being lost in a desert of words, with the odd mirage in the distance to wet my thirst for the vague gossamer plot.
On the plus side, the transient supporting cast fared much better. Some were really quite interesting even if only momentarily. However, there was one character that said the word "muchacho" (Spanish for, young man) about 10,000 times. I wanted to cut my wrists by the end. Why couldn't he die earlier in the novel? No wonder the word count for this novel is edging on a hefty 200,000 words. That's 3 regular novels in one behemoth package.
What is quite sad is that there were many interesting paragraphs, phrases that I could quote that would make people want to buy and read the book. Sadly the thousands of words in between them lets it down.
I even like the book's abstract title. DUMA KEY. I thought it was an actual key, but it's not. It's a place.
One thing that I will do is leave you with one passage that I enjoyed on the subject of: How to Draw a Picture (1).
"Start with a blank surface. It doesn't have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember.
How do we remember to remember? That's a question I've asked myself often since my time on Duma Key, often in the small hours of the morning, looking up into the absence of light, remembering absent friends. Sometimes in those little hours I think about the horizon. You have to establish the horizon. You have to mark the white. A simple enough act, you might say, but any act that re-makes the world is heroic. Or so I've come to believe.
Imagine a little girl, hardly more than a baby. She fell from a carriage almost ninety years ago, struck her head on a stone, and forgot everything. Not just her name; everything! And then one day she recalled just enough to pick up a pencil and make that first hesitant mark across the white. A horizon-line, sure. But also a slot for blackness to pour through.
Still, imagine that small hand lifting the pencil... hesitating... and then marking the white. Imagine the courage of that first effort to re-establish the world by picturing it. I will always love that little girl, in spite of all she has cost me. I must. I have no choice. Pictures are magic, as you know."
Absolutely brilliant! At least I think so.
Alright, one more on Art and Talent:
"Stay hungry. It worked for Michelangelo, it worked for Picasso, and it works for a hundred thousand artists who do it not for love (although that might play a part) but in order to put food on the table. If you want to translate the world, you need to use your appetites. Does this surprise you? It shouldn't. There’s no creation without talent, I give you that, but talent is cheap. Talent goes begging. Hunger is the piston of art."
Now you understand what I mean. All you have to do is wade through the rest to find these beautiful gems. A crying shame really. Some dexterous editing from his (hopefully) smart publisher and this book would have been a diamond. Instead, this book was rather like watching carbon working its way to becoming a diamond. Or something to that effect.
Finally... I had the feeling that the novel was weirdly, like a twisted, back-to-front, inside-out, upside-down, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" but without the ageing and dozens more paintings. But that may just be me though.
Sergiu Pobereznic (author