Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King, 2010

Of these four long stories, the first and third were King-I-don’t-like (straight horror), and the second and fourth were good examples of King-I-do-like. Interestingly, both the Dos (“Big Driver,” “A Good Marriage”) have female protagonists, and the Don’t have male. I think one of the characteristics of horror is that the “happiest” ending is basically good luck (at best aided by the courage or skill of the participants) and often temporary, and as the title indicates, a happy ending is not a given in horror. One of King’s skills is tapping into/implicitly criticizing a particular kind of American misogyny, and he doesn’t leave his female protagonists in the true dark. His male protagonists fall into two camps, the straight-up good guys (with flaws of course) like Stu Redman in The Stand and Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, and the half-bad guys like the central characters of the other two stories (“1922” and “Fair Extension”). They don’t get the happy endings. If my theory holds, you’d be able to tell pretty quickly what the tone of the ending is going to be.

The last story, “A Good Marriage,” was inspired by Paula Rader (wife of Dennis Rader), but for me it brought to mind the more recent Russell Williams case. I don’t entirely buy King’s depiction of how great the husband is before his horrible secret is revealed (surely some of his attitude towards other women would have leaked out), but it has a truly satisfying ending. I’m glad I stuck through the tin-eared approximation of period-speak in the opening “1922” to get to the end.

The Doll People – Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin, 2000

Picked up as a library discard – I really wanted to like it because the doll story is a favorite genre of mine (Racketty-Packetty House, Hitty, etc.), and the illustrations by Brian Selznick are terrific. Alas, it’s weirdly slow and ultimately unsatisfactory. If I could put my finger on exactly why I have a feeling it would help me with my own writing. The characterization is just OK, but with a better plot and better pacing I don’t think that would be crucial. Maybe it’s a kind of telling-not-showing–getting caught by the cat or seen by a human and going into “Doll State” don’t feel very momentous, and we hear a lot about hours spent looking for the McGuffin (Aunt Sarah, a doll missing for 45 years) without getting a sense of how that time was spent. Then the actual finding and rescue happen promptly and smoothly. Is it partly that everything is too fleshed out, compared for example to the Narnia books and their economy of words? Maybe especially with children’s books the author needs to leave most of it to the imagination. The one great touch is the contrast between the old-fashioned dolls and their new neighbors, the Funcrafts–again mostly due to Selznick’s depictions.