Part of the soon to be “Top 10 Beach Reads of Horror” as mentioned on Haunting TV
By Stephen King
Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Fiction
What happens when the barrier between our world and that of the supernatural is breached… No more than a dark pencil line on a blank page. A horizon line, maybe. But also a slot for blackness to pour through…
Edgar Freemantle barely survives a horrible construction site accident that leaves him a throbbing mangled leg, a missing arm, an irrational temper, and memories best described as scrambled eggs before they’re fully cooked. As he regains some mobility through rehab his wife divorces him, leaving him a suicidal mess. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, hands him an anger management doll and tells him a change of scenery might do him good. Somewhere away from the cold of Minnesota and the construction business he’s spent his life devoted to.
And Kamen suggests something else. “Edgar, does anything make you happy?”
“I used to sketch.”
“Take it up again. You need hedges…hedges against the night.”
So Edgar packs up and heads on down to a beautiful and weirdly under-developed Key on the Florida Coast, Duma Key. The first night there he is overcome by the grating rattling voices of the shells beneath his new home and the blazing sunset on the Gulf of Mexico. So overcome- that this one-armed fellow, who’s never drawn more than a doodle in his whole life, starts ravenously drawing the sunset. And comes out with something eerily beautiful. Every morning he heals with walks on the beach, and befriends his neighbors, the wealthy and mysterious Elizabeth Eastlake and her companion Wireman. And every sunset Edgar feverishly creates painting after painting. He soon discovers that this lighting-strike of talent is opening him up to new, otherworldly experiences, and changing reality around him. For better, and more importantly, for worse.
I was excited about reading this book from the moment I set eyes on it in the second hand book shop. I was specifically looking for “beachy horror” to read and when I read the above introduction I was in love.
This story hit home for me in a lot of ways. The first was that Edgar was recovering from a debilitating injury and was re-learning how to walk and function all over again. I was not in an accident nearly as dramatic as his, but I recently suffered a knee injury of my own that I am still recovering from (word to the wise, never try dancing like an octopus unsupervised). I found Edgar’s journey of physical and psychological recovery through his artwork very relatable and it made me so much more invested in the story.
Beyond my instant personal connection to Edgar, I was particularly enthralled by the slow and steady building of suspense, the wildly vivid imagery, and the haunting weight that Edgar’s paintings were given as the story progressed. I wouldn’t call this a particularity frightening book, it has it’s scary undead moments speckled in there, but it sure as heck put me on edge as it started pulling all of the pieces together. Although it did hit it’s balls-to-the-wall crazy and horrifying stride in the third act. The voice of the book is written from Edgar’s point of view and in the past tense so you get little hints of what is going to happen all the way through that manage to tear you apart before the act even occurs.
The history of the island played a huge role in the book. I loved how micro-flashbacks with it’s history would lead into chapters from the main story and leave you to start fleshing it out with the little crumbs of information King left along the way.
Duma Key was a wonderfully crafted thriller with just enough moments of horror mixed in to satisfy. I loved this book, loved the characters, loved the plot, and loved the world of the the Duma Key that King built in this book. I will also say that actually reading it while on a beach adds exponentially to one’s enjoyment of it. 😉
5 out of 5 blood spattered stars. This one’s a beach-bag ready keeper.
“Stay hungry. It worked for Michelangelo, it worked for Picasso, and it works for a hundred thousand artists who do it not for love (although that may play a part) but in order to put food on the table. If you want to translate the world, you need to use your appetites. There’s nothing as human as hunger. There’s no creation with out talent, I give you that, but talent is cheap. Talent goes begging. Hunger is the piston of art.” (pg 95).
“It grinned at me, lips splitting as they drew back, revealing two lines of yellow teeth set into old black gums. It raised it’s right arm, and here I saw what must have been another relic of the Perse. It was a manacle. One old and rusty circlet was clamped around the thing’s wrist. The other one hung open like a loose jaw. The other one was for me.” (pg 446).
As a closing thought; this is one of those books that I will find myself wanting to create the paintings described in it’s pages. My fingers are already itching to try.