Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Duma Key by Stephen King

Few Stephen King novels in recent history have reviewed quite as well as Duma Key. Not only were the preliminary appraisals heaped with honour, but the naysayers and flame throwers seemed to have battened on to this novel as though it were a life raft amid a sea of literary chaos. There is some merit to all of this, of course. By and large, the reading public is not stupid. Quite the contrary, in fact. If the majority lean toward it favourably - then there is every chance the novel is favourable. I'm pleased to say this is certainly the case with Duma Key - although I do have some minor quibbles of my own.

Let's set the scene, shall we? Edgar Freemantle, big American boy in the construction business, is involved in a freak accident which tears off his right arm, and subsequently severs his marriage. After the suicidal thoughts and rage subsides, Edgar heads to the Florida Coast of Duma Key to heal himself of the physical and cerebral demons. In particular, he rents a sea-side dwelling named Salmon Pink (which he later nick-names Big Pink). It is here where he takes up the childhood passion of sketching and painting - talents that seem harmless to begin with but start to take root into something dangerous and malign.

A basic premise, but one which will suffice. Told in first person, King's prose in this novel simple and elegant; in a nutshell, its pure King, pure storytelling. I had the distinct feeling the first draft was composed in longhand. The syntax can be at times cumbersome - but I've yet to read a King novel yet that doesn't bloat to some extent. In a way, it's what makes his tomes worth the wait and money. One could almost say it's what makes them endearing.

Upon moving to Florida, Edgar strikes up a relationship with his neighbours: Jerome Wireman, an ageing Hispanic. And Elizabeth Westlake, Wireman's elderly charge who has developed Alzheimer's in her twilight years and has lived in Duma Key her entire life. Inheriting her house (El Palacio) from a tycoon father, Elizabeth also owns Big Pink and a huge chunk of Duma estate. It's not long before Edgar starts painting, and with such a location, his inspirational tools never run dry.

Now onto the supernatural happenings: As in the Dead Zone, King's protagonist develops extra-sensory powers. In this instance they're related to Art and seemingly caused by the phantom limb that keeps making an appearance. Without giving too much away regarding this, I'll say that some of his Art, aside from paintings of Duma itself, feature characters from his past and present life. His powers enable him to - change things. What irks me about this whole scenario is the same thing that occurs in The Dead Zone. For no apparent reason cataclysmic advents seem to surround the ordinary Jill's and Joes from his life. Something bad, exceptionally bad, besieges these individuals when no evidence at all gave us clues that this was apparent. Sure, advents occur to people all the time. But it all seems a little too convoluted; a little too convenient for my tastes. When Edgar charges himself with remedying the situation, you can probably guess what the results will be.

Journeying with Edgar as he finds his muse, the reader will be completely taken in. The sounds and sights of Duma Key, as well as Edgar's use of Art as medication, create a tapestry of emotion and feeling that is vintage King. I will never tire of his personal beliefs of the conundrum that is Art in all its incarnations. Whether it is writing, painting, or even music, King has his finger pressed firmly on the button articulating these acts of the mind. There are, however, perhaps too many mundane scenes in the novel before the action cranks up: the trails and trivialities of family; the slow process that sees Edgar find an audience for his work. In the build up to the ending, plot lines can become a little mystifying but my instinct told me this was nothing that a second reading couldn't cure.

During his career, Stephen King has made the nostalgia of certain times and places resonate with an almost aching clarity, and Duma Key is no exception.

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