Book #11: Duma Key

Thank goodness for Leap Year, or this wouldn't have made it for a February book.

Anyway, since quasi-retiring after the completion of his Dark Tower series, Stephen King has written three full-length novels, a crime novel for Hard Case Crime, polished up and released an older unpublished novel under his alter ego Richard Bachman and co-wrote a book about the Boston Red Sox triumphant championship year. His fifth short story collection comes out later this year. This is a man whose definition of "retirement" seems to follow the same logic as the Rolling Stones. Unlike the Stones' lethargic prancing about half-heartedly singing the same hits they penned 40 years ago, King has emerged from under the weight of his magnum opus to release fresh and youthful writing you would expect from someone just starting out, as opposed to something with over 50 novels under his belt.

Duma Key is the story of Edgar Freemantle, a successful building contractor who, after a terrible accident, is left with one arm, difficulty remembering words, and an anger that drives away his wife and threatens to take over his entire life. As therapy, his doctor recommends a change of scenery, and a hobby to "build hedges against the night." Something that made him happy. So Edgar moves to lovely Duma Key off the coast of Florida, where he begins to paint. And paint, and paint - each picture more startling than the last. Not only for their mastery of form and color, but for something else as well...

Spooky spooky! Anyway, a couple of things really stood out in Duma Key. First, it's one of the first full novels I can remember of his that was written in the first person. Edgar's viewpoint is vivid and serves to connect you to the material in a way that feels very direct and personal, a change of pace from his more sprawling, multi-narrator books. Although it clocks in at just over 600 pages, it's a fast read, and I think that's from the excellent plotting of the story, with its horror and humor coming at just the right moments. As Edgar struggles to unravel the mystery of the island and the mysterious threat that is set to kill everyone he's ever loved, the book moves faster and faster to its ultimately satisfying conclusion.

For fans of the Dark Tower series there are a ton of references to that work, not the least of which is the description of the main baddie, who wears a red robe similar to the Crimson King. But I would rather focus on the fact that this, like King's previous novel Lisey's Story and Cell before that, feel like a rejuvenation and belie a youthful exuberance that is refreshing after so much depth and weighty work before it.