THE ENTERTAINMENT CRITIC BOOK REVIEW, BY JAMES MYERS
By Stephen King
Published by Simon & Schuster Trade
Publication Date: January 2008
Five Star Rating ****
AUTHOR OF OVER 40 NOVELS AND 200 SHORT STORIES.
AUTHOR OF SOME THE GREATEST HORROR FICTION BOOKS IN MODERN LITERATURE (CARRIE, SALEM’S LOT, THE GREEN MILE, LISEY’S STORY)
2003 HE RECEIVED THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION'S MEDAL FOR DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS.
6 BRAM STOKER AWARDS, 6 HORROR GUILD AWARDS, 5 LOCUS AWARDS, 3 WORLD FANTASY AWARDS (INCLUDING A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN 2004), THE 1996 O. HENRY AWARD, A HUGO AWARD IN 1982 FOR THE NON-FICTION DANSE MACABRE. HE WAS GIVEN A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN 2003 BY THE HORROR WRITERS' ASSOCIATION AND, CONTROVERSIALLY, A MEDAL FOR DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS FROM THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION IN 2003.
“I had an accident at the job site. It was pretty simple; when a pickup truck, even a Dodge Ram with all the bells and whistles, argues with a twelve story crane, the pickup is going to loose every time. The right side of my skull only cracked. The left side was slammed so hard against the Ram’s doorpost that it fractured in three places. Or maybe it was five. My memory is better than it used to be, but it is still a long way from what it once was.
The doctors called what happened to my head a contracoup injury, and that kind of thing often does more damage than the original hit. My ribs were broken, my right hip was shattered. And although I retained seventy per cent of the sight in my right eye (more, on a good day), I lost my right arm.”
The incomparable Stephen King is back with a solid, gripping tale, like only he can write. This is his first novel set in Florida. It is among his most terrifying, haunting and engrossing work.
Edgar Freemantle is a wealthy, self-made man; a 57 year old contractor who loses his right arm in an accident at a job site. Edgar begins to battle bouts of rage during his long recovery that causes his wife to leave him. Depressed and suicidal, Edgar takes the advice of his therapist, Dr. Kamen, to "change his scenery" from Minnesota to Duma Key, a small, virtually deserted island off of Florida's gulf coast.
Edgar rents Salmon Point -- which he names "Big Pink" because of its rich pink color -- an unusual house on the northern part of the small island, where Edgar begins to explore his interest in art. He feels almost compelled to draw and paint, a compulsion he relates to a phantom limb sensation he has in his right arm. Edgar's youngest and beloved daughter Ilse visits Edgar shortly after he arrives to help bring him out of his shell. While exploring the island, Ilse is overwhelmed by sickness as they approach the southern half of the key; a place with unusually dense growth. Ilse later leaves, taking one of Edgar's paintings with her, and Edgar meets the only other residents of the island who live down the beach from him; Elizabeth Eastlake, an eccentric old woman who is a native of Duma Key, and her caretaker, Wireman. Elizabeth warns him that Duma Key has never been a good place for daughters.
Wireman and Edgar become fast friends and Edgar learns of Wireman's own past in which he, then a lawyer in Nebraska, tried to kill himself after his wife and child died accidental deaths in quick succession. However, he survived with a bullet in his head. Like Edgar, Wireman seemed to be almost drawn to the key. As Edgar's art talent grows, his paintings begin to take on a mystical quality. Edgar's is able to "see" events that are transpiring, including his ex-wife's affair with his old friend Tom Riley, as well as Ilse's love life. He also draws a picture of a wraith in a red robe which he does not show anyone. Edgar's talent grows as does his phantom limb sensations, and he is able to affect the outside world with his painting. He uses his talent to kill a child murderer, and to remove the bullet from Wireman's head.
Wireman urges Edgar to show his paintings to a gallery in Sarasota, and the owners are highly impressed with his talent. His work catches the eye of Mary Ire, a long time Florida art critic. Through his conversations with Mary, and his friendship with Wireman, Edgar begins to learn of the mysterious past of Elizabeth Eastlake and her five sisters who lived on Duma Key with their father and housekeeper (Nan Melda) in the 1920s. Edgar begins to become obsessed with painting pictures featuring a terrifying ship with black sails, which Edgar feels is a ship of the dead. He paints himself into a daze one evening during which he experiences a terrible specter of a pair of long dead twin girls who enter Big Pink. Understanding that the vision is real, Edgar and Wireman begin to unravel the mystery of Elizabeth's past. Elizabeth asks Edgar if he has begun to paint the ship yet.
Edgar's work is shown at a gallery sale, which is a smashing success until Elizabeth Eastlake reacts violently to the ship pictures. She dies of a stroke and Edgar becomes convinced that Elizabeth herself was an artist. With the help of Jack Cantori, a college student Edgar hires to help him run errands, Edgar and Wireman discover a stash of Elizabeth's old pictures at her house. Edgar is able to use the psychic abilities, and his phantom limb affords him to "sense" the events that happened in Elizabeth's childhood. Elizabeth was a child art prodigy who suffered a bad injury at the age of two. After the accident she began to draw amazing pictures that began to manifest themselves in the real world, including a huge frog with fangs and a living lawn jockey. Eventually, her doll began to tell her what to draw. Elizabeth caused a small hurricane with her art that uncovered a buried treasure off the coast, which her father finds. Among the treasure is a small china doll that Elizabeth insists on having.
As Edgar attempts to uncover more of the mystery of Elizabeth's past using his own talents he learns that Perse, an ancient goddess who is embodied by the china doll, used Elizabeth and her talents to escape the gulf and collect souls to serve her. It is Perse's ship that Edgar is painting, and it is Perse herself that is the red robed wraith in Edgar's drawing. Upon learning this, he descends the stairs of Big Pink to find the ship waiting for him just off shore. He is attacked by a wraith in the form of a dead man, long ago lost at sea. As the wraith attempts to drag Edgar to the ship, Wireman intervenes and is able to drive the wraith off using a silver candlestick.
Realizing that Perse has also used him, and the unique psychic ability his phantom limb has caused, Edgar tries to keep his paintings out of the hands of his friends and family who attended the galley. He is too late to save Dr. Kamen and Tom Riley; they are mysteriously killed. Edgar thinks he has saved Ilse by having her burn the painting she took. However, the art critic, Mary Ire, bought one of the ship paintings, and Perse uses it to control Mary and send her to Rhode Island, where she drowns Ilse in her own bathtub. Perse does this to punish Edgar and his meddling. Grief struck, Edgar draws Ilse on the beach sand outside of Big Pink.
Realizing that the key to defeating Perse lies at the old Eastlake estate on the southern part of the island, Edgar, Wireman, and Jack travel there looking for the final clues. There they experience many of the bizarre manifestations from Elizabeth's artwork, and well as a twelve foot alligator sent to stop them, (which Wireman disposes of with a handgun). The trio find Elizabeth's old doll, which speaks through Jack and tells them that Nan Melda -- the Eastlakes' housekeeper -- realized Elizabeth's power and found out about Perse. Perse punished them in the 1920s by drowning Elizabeth's six year old twin sisters by driving them into the sea using the giant frog from Elizabeth's paintings. The dead twins were then used by Perse to lure the fiancee of the oldest sister (Emery) to his death in the gulf. Nan Melda followed the oldest sister to the beach with Elizabeth's father because the oldest sister was next. There they encountered the now dead twins, Emery, and the red robbed Perse on the deck of her ship. Nan Melda was able to hold off the wraiths using her silver braclets as Perse looked on, but the father accidently killed the oldest daughter and Nan Melda, using a spear gun. The distraction worked though, and Elizabeth trapped the china doll representing Perse in a keg full of fresh water, which Perse cannot affect because she comes from the sea (salt water).
Realizing they must find the doll, the trio finds an old well containing the remains of the oldest sister and Nan Melda, as well as the keg, which has leaked dry. The trio race against the sunset, as Edgar tries to store the doll in a waterproof flashlight full of fresh water. As night falls, the twins and Emery attack Jack and Wireman, who are able to hold them off using silver spear tips taken from the Eastlake home, as Edgar traps the doll with Perse speaking in his mind the whole time. Edgar succeeds, but he takes the silver braclets of Nan Melda's from the well, knowing it is not over.
With Perse trapped, the trio head back to the other end of the island. Edgar knows he must face his last demon alone, so he walks back to Big Pink along the beach with the flashlight. He encounters Ilse, who has manifested from the sand art that Edgar drew earlier. Edgar sees the ship of the dead waiting, and realizes that this is the last of Perse's tricks. He reveals to the sand-Ilse that it is a different flashlight, and then smashes the entity with the silver braclets.
Wireman and Edgar store the flashlight in a water tight silver container, and drop it into a very deep Minnesota fresh water lake. The book ends with Edgar sitting down to paint his final picture; a hurricane destroying Duma Key.
This is by far and away the most terrifying book that I have read all year, and it is consistent with King at his best. The horrible events that compromise Edgar’s health are only surpassed by the unanticipated horrible things that happen at Duma Key. This is a long book at 611 pages but King’s development of characters, plot, and suspense keep us on the edge of our seats. The suspense and the unpredictability of what is going to happen next, particularly in the last third of the book make Duma Key yet another Stephen King classic. Themes like family conflict, the mixed blessing of artistic talent, the nature of masculine friendship and loyalty, and the possibility of redemption for even those most broken in body and spirit, make this book a must read. Read this baby aloud with your sweetie on a dark and stormy night. I guarantee chills. This is not your father’s ghost story, but it is a classic. Great reading from a great author, I recommend this book.