Book Review: Duma Key

Duma Key

Note: This is book 10 of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.

In preparation for doing this review of Stephen King’s latest, I did some poking around and read some other reviews on the ‘net and was surprised to find that a lot of people like it. I, despite being a King fanboy, didn’t care for it that much. It’s gotten to be that King barely writes what you can fairly call horror books anymore. That’s his prerogative, of course (roaring, scarcely imaginable success has its privileges), but between this, Blaze, Cell, Lisey’s Story, and The Colorado Kid it’s just not been the King I grew to love.

Look, it’s not that Duma Key is a bad novel. In fact, it’s pretty well written and refreshing in its setting. Instead of yet another everyman cum hero from a xenophobic town in rural Maine, Duma Key tells the story of a successful building contractor from Minnesota named Edgar Freemantle. Our hero is maimed in a work site accident, and when the resulting physical and mental damage wreck his marriage, he retires and moves to a small island in the keys of Florida to recuperate. Part of his therapy involves taking painting up again, and he turns out to be very good. Supernaturally good, in fact. The stuff he paints is very surreal, and the paintings seem to have sinister lives of their own that are tied to an old and evil somethingoranother on the island. It’s the kind of “artist/creator as a magician or god” ground that he’s covered in other works, like later Dark Tower books and the short story Word Processor of the Gods, but here it’s pretty fresh in its presentation.

And King does a good job of what King often does well: He builds character. Edgar Freemantle and the friends he makes Duma Key are interesting, nuanced, complex, and flawed. They’re good literary characters, in short, not Mary Janes or cliches. The thing is, though, that the book is ALL character development and setup, to the point where it languishes over those actions. We get to know a lot about Edgar Freemantle, but honestly, I thought I had ENOUGH after a couple hundred pages and was ready for the plot to develop. Instead, we get long scenes about beach walks, art shows, and father-daughter chats that are nicely done except that there are too many of them and they drag.

Then, literally in the last 100 pages of the 600 page book, King seems to remember that he’s got to do something that makes the book fit in the “Horror” section of the bookstore and drags out some extras from the first Pirates of the Carribian movie. Dead, squishy sailors walk in from the surf and oh yeah there’s some kinda monster in the woods that Edgar and his ka-tet (to use The Gunslinger’s term) have to figure out how to best. That part was cool, but it felt forced and like it was part of another book.

I know I’ll keep buying new King books as long as he makes them, but I think I’m gonna have to go back to some of the older stuff to remind me why he’s one of my favorites for a good old fashion page turner.

Others doing the 52-in-52 this week:

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Duma Key

  1. It’s actually better than Cell. That book was just lazy, with lame characterization and a lurching plot. If anything, Duma Key goes too far in the wothe direction, with miles deep characterization (especially with the main character) and a plot that shoves the whole supernatural bit into the background until the last hundred pages. Again, it’s not really bad writing (like Cell, IMO), it’s just not much of a page turner.

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