Duma Key

I bring you wisdom so that you don't have to suffer from my mistake. If you're going to read Stephen King's latest book, Duma Key, don't check it out of the library on a seven day express, no renewals, loan. Especially if you're sharing it with another member of the household. This will only lead to heartbreak, squabbling and, possibly, fines. Weighing in at 607 pages, this book is, to paraphrase the great P.G. Wodehouse, easily large enough to stun a burglar. Add in the thrilling story line and you've got something that may take more than a week to read and you won't want to share, even with a formerly beloved family member. (Of course that's a joke, I still love my son; it's just that I've written him out of my will, for the sin of hogging.)

Duma Key is about a man who has had a horrible accident and is trying to rebuild his life, without destroying what's left of his family. Or it's about how life imitates art, and art imitates life, taken to the nth degree. Or it's about how every time we lose something we get something new to replace it; whether that's a dark gift or bright. Or it's about a man who is chosen for some awful, crucial task and how he's gradually formed into the one who can fulfill the task. Or possibly it's all of these things.

Edgar Freemantle is a successful man, in his prime, with a loving wife and two charming daughters, when his life is shattered by a freak accident. He is at work on one of his own sites, in his truck, when a crane backs into him, crushing the truck, breaking his skull and severing his right arm. Mind you, this is just the beginning of the book, which I set down several times, unsure if I wanted to finish reading it. I know that terrible things are going to happen in a King story (remember poor Georgie Denbrough and his missing arm?), so if something this horrific happens right away, what ghastly things are in store over the course of the next several hundred pages? Do I really want to know? Curiosity is a great and terrible thing so, in the end, I did read enough to get sucked in and finish the book in one long marathon session.

When Edgar has recovered a little from his accident his life is very different. He's filled with a red rage over which he has very little control, his memory is spotty at best and his wife leaves him over an incident he can barely recall. Physical therapy is torture, but the mental torture of just trying to get through the day is worse for him. When he decides that death is better than the semblance of life left to him his therapist tells him to wait, because now matter how hard he tries to make his suicide look like an accident his family will know and his daughters will be damaged, and that sometimes a change of pace is in order. So our hero sets off, going from Minnesota to a tiny island in Florida, where he rekindles a long forgotten love of drawing.

His drawings are surreal and haunting and soon he moves on to painting, working in a near trance frenzy. There are secrets in Duma Key and his painting seems to be connected to those secrets, rousing something that has been dormant for years. No surprise given that this is a King novel, that something isn't King Arthur or any other force for good, it's something rather nasty that Edgar does not want anywhere near his family.

The biggest problem I have with Stephen King books, and this is something he has talked about himself, is his endings. The entire Dark Tower series, which I started back before my college age children were born and finished recently, was nearly ruined by the ending. It can be difficult to read several hundred pages of a King opus and end up thinking, "What the heck was that?" I'm pleased to report that I was satisfied by the ending of this book, albeit somewhat confused about the motivation of one of the characters.

What really made this book work for me wasn't the terrific descriptions of the artistic process or the careful buildup of the underlying horror; it was the unflinching look at how chronic pain, loss and brain injury affect not just the patient, but everyone around them. It's hard to write about this topic without turning your project into a maudlin, sentimental mess, fit only for a 70's movie of the week. By making it the backdrop of the story, instead of the focus, the author allows us to enjoy the plot instead of wallowing in pity. I was particularly impressed with how well he nailed the frustration and sheer goofiness that goes with trying to come with up the correct words post brain injury. I give him an A+.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Colleen Lindsay, who says, "If you like your paranormal romance a touch on the literary side, with the added bonus of an ancient mystery to solve, you'll love The Boundless Deep, Kate [Brallier]'s second book, which has just been published by Tor/Forge. (And if you haven't read it yet, you should go get a copy of her first book, Seal Island!)" Colleen also points us to the lovely cover of The Boundless Deep, which you can find here. And I, faithful treasure seeker that I am, dug up the first chapter here. Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.