Supernatural elements are unsatisfying...but some great writing
Jun 7, 2008
I'm a pretty huge Stephen King fan, dating back to about 1979, when I first read THE SHINING. I've stuck with him through some poor times (THE DARK HALF & NEEDFUL THINGS) and certainly enjoyed the high points. DUMA KEY falls somewhere in the middle of the batch. It has some wonderful writing...aside from the story...King's ability to describe a situation (like an artist's first time gallery -opening) or a feeling (the frustration of learning to live with only one arm) is near its height. The settings and tone of the book are well-crafted and you'll have no trouble immersing yourself in the place, time, weather, etc.
Yet it also fails on a surprising level. It simply isn't all that good of a story of the supernatural.
The book starts off well enough...in fact, it's gripping for quite awhile. We meet Edgar Freemantle, a wealthy and highly successful commercial builder in the Detroit area. He's married, has two nearly grown daughters and generally is the American personified. One day, he is horribly injured in an accident with a large crane. Edgar is nearly killed, but survives...minus one arm and with some significant brain damage which leaves him struggling to remember words and seething with anger when he can't express himself. His wife can't take it after awhile, and leaves him. She also leaves him feeling suicidal...but Edgar's physician convinces him to find a nice area to relocate to and to take up something he's always been interested in...but never pursued...painting.
Edgar takes his broken body and spirit to Duma Key, Florida. This little island has a few homes on it, but is remarkably free from development. Near Tampa, it sits right on the gulf, and Edgar is moved by its beauty, and in relative solitude, he begins to work on healing his body. His mind also begins to stitch itself back together and finally does begin to draw and paint. And wouldn't you know it, Edgar is an amazing talent. You'd almost think his work was being guided by another hand...it's so remarkable and strange.
Much of DUMA KEY barely touches on the supernatural. Yet it is always just there. Edgar's stunning artistic skills CAN'T be all innate, can they? The whispering of the waves over the shells under Edgar's house can't just be random sounds, can they? And the strange behavior of his very elderly neighbor Elizabeth Eastlake can't JUST be dementia, can it? Edgar develops a close friendship with Ms. Eastlake's caretaker, a retired lawyer named Wireman, who is also on Duma Key to overcome personal and physical trauma. The two men form a quick bond. Which is good, because things are about to get very strange on Duma Key, and they'll need each other.
I was disappointed when the supernatural elements of the book began to come to the forefront, expecting something more than what to me was a rather lame ghost story. The primary "villain" of the supernatural crew in this book is only sketchily explained, and her powers, while significant...seem to be only partially thought-out by King. He actually doesn't seem to have a full handle on what sort of creature he's concocted. I kept waiting for something to click home, for a puzzle piece to fall into place...but I was left unsatisfied. And much of the spooky stuff is explained through a somewhat awkward device of flashing back through first the memories of Elizabeth as a girl and then through Edgar's artwork. I felt like we were still being given exposition as the book was 30 pages from its conclusion. I don't have problems with flashbacks as a concept at all...but I felt like almost no NEW information was being discovered in the present. All our "heroes" have to do is figure out what happened in the past, and then do a couple of things to fix them.
Also (and I've complained about this before), King has concocted yet another hero who is an artist. I am so tired of this. Here we have painter. LISEY'S STORY gave us a writer. CELL had a graphic novelist. THE SHINING had a writer. THE DARK HALF had a writer. Even THE DARK TOWER series, it could be argued, all stemmed from a writer. I understand that King understands the lot of an artist better than most...but he also has an imagination, and could surely craft more heroes from non-artistic cloth. Heck, Stu Redman from THE STAND worked at a gas station!
Finally, the character of Edgar's friend Wireman is simply not convincing. He peppers his speech with frequent Spanish words...primarily "muchacho." I don't know too many Spanish-speakers who toss that word around in every other sentence. He's a nearly perfectly sensitive friend...never taking a misstep, always ready with sound advice and a glass of iced green tea. It's a nice concept...but I never was able to quite wrap my mind around him as an actual person.
Fortunately, the other character's King creates are vintage. Edgar's daughters are concisely and specifically drawn. His troubled ex-wife is well done. Elizabeth Eastlake's delicate hold on sanity are well-rendered.
In the end, I recommend the book. It is very long, but it is full of great King touches. He is a very good writer, after all. This makes his stumbles seem more like full-blown falls...but it's okay, because he hops back up, brushes off the dust, and moves forward again. My biggest complaint is that in this book, what he moves towards is not that great. A lot of the tone of the book reminded me of King's BAG OF BONES. If you liked that book (I wasn't nuts about it)...you should really like DUMA KEY.
One of my favorite Stephen King books. I read it while on a beach vacation and the setting in the book made it perfect and a little creepier. If done properly it would make a superb movie. Recommend to anyone who likes creepy and great writing.
Ahh... what can I say about Duma Key, other than it being an extraordinary experience, a literary breath of fresh air, a masterpiece of color and texture without any actual paint being used. I guess there are some people out there think it's boring or long but I instantaneously felt a bond with the book and I can say that I absolutely loved it! The writing itself was so colorful and interesting that I enjoyed each and every page, there was in no rush to get to the ending by any means, but I did … more
Sometimes I read a long book and wish it were shorter. But reading Stephen King's Duma Key was not one of those times. The story is beautifully plotted and paced, from the slightly off-kilter wonder of the first page--"Pictures are magic, as you know"--to the real-world tragedy of a brain-injured one-armed man, to the fearful, awful revelations around page 600. The heroes in this novel are very real, very wounded people, old enough to know a bit about life, … more
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The prolific purveyor of terror, Stephen King, semi-successfully turns his finely honed, `I-know-what-scares-you' gaze from the venue of his beloved Maine to the seemingly serene retiree-haven of the Florida Keys in his umpteenth novel entitled, "Duma Key". This tale of horror explores the idea of an imaginative power so forceful that when it flexes its muscle a combination of all-hell-breaking-loose steam and creative juices gone wild collide with the impact of the construction crane that nearly … more
Any New England snowbird can empathize with Edgar Freemantle's instant fascination with the west coast Florida sunset. "As that light skied upward, orange faded to a breathless Maxfield Parrish blue-green that I had never seen before with my own eyes...and yet I had a sense of déjà vu, as if maybe I had seen it, in my dreams." Whether it's the novelty of a sunset over water or being closer to the equator or further west in the time zone, there's no denying … more
When my best friend asked me what makes 'Duma Key' a Stephen King book, I had to think about it. I knew just what she meant: what makes it creepy, scary, where's that touch of the supernatural? I realized that what I had been describing to her didn't sound much like a King novel, and there is reason for that. This isn't an easy novel to read. Edgar Freemantle, our intrepid protagonist, suffers a pretty horrific accident in the early pages, loses his right arm along with mental … more
Renting a house on an eerily undeveloped stretch of the Florida coast after suffering a crippling accident and ending his marriage, construction millionaire Edgar Freemantle obsessively creates works of art that lead him to discover unsettling elements from his landlady's enigmatic family history. Reprint.