It’s been a little while since I’ve read a Stephen King horror novel, and I was really looking forward to a nice escape. But I’m sad to say that I wasn’t entirely pleased with “Duma Key.” King’s two greatest weaknesses, I think, have always been the following: he’ll introduce a character with psychic abilities to easily explain away various events/activities; and his protagonists will get into situations where they “just know” that they should call someone, or that they should carry something, or that they should [insert random action here]. Both of these devices, in my opinion, are authorial cheating.
To be fair, “Duma Key” gives us a highly interesting glimpse of Florida, and I appreciated King’s attempt to capture the unique sleepiness of the Gulf Coast. His imagined island of Duma Key, in fact, would technically be just miles from my childhood home in Venice, Florida, and I actually used to frequent a 7-Eleven that he references in the book. The setting, for me, was a dream come true, and I think it allowed King to challenge himself more as a writer. And the protagonist’s occupation and ailment (a construction worker with a severed arm) were both unique, and a far cry from the stale occupation King has relied upon so often: the author.
But the book builds and builds for about 300 pages, great interiority and great character development, and we know King has written himself into a hole: in order to tell the story he wants to tell, we’ve got to have psychic abilities, and we’ve got to have characters who “just do things” because their gut tells them to. And it isn’t something understandable, like “I should probably bring my cell phone with me.” Instead, it’s “I should probably not allow too many of my paintings to accumulate in a single room at once.” Who thinks such a thing, except for characters in Stephen King novels who need to advance the plot through odd intuition?
Well-written, of course, but don’t tell me that these devices are understandable, or that they’re forgivable. Don’t defend King’s laziness. He’s won the O. Henry Award. He’s edited “Best American Short Stories.” The man is respected in literary circles now. He’s good. Too good for these sort of cheats. Spend an extra two months editing your books, King, and they’ll be classics and not just bestsellers.