Study Guide

Full Dark, No Stars

by Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars Summary

Extended Summary

Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four novellas that twist relationships and love to their darkest and most violent forms. In this collection of stories, King writes about murder, rape, and death. The collection's characters all live in “full dark,” and there are no stars in the sky toward which they can reach. In his Afterword, King explains that the four stories were not easy for him to write, which is particularly impressive given King’s long career of crafting horror fiction.

"1922"

The first story, “1922,” is told from the point of view of Wilfred Leland James. When the story opens, it is 1930 and Wilfred is in a hotel room, waiting to die. In 1922, Wilfred was a struggling farmer trying to get his 80 acres of land to produce enough to support his wife and son. Wilfred’s wife, Arlette, has inherited 100 acres of good farmland from her father. Instead of letting her husband farm that land, Arlette is intent on selling it to a hog butchery. Arlette’s dream is to sell the land and move off the farm with the money. Before she can sell the land, Wilfred convinces his son, Henry Freeman James, to help him murder Arlette. Although Henry feels conflicted about murdering his mother, he agrees to help his father so he can remain in Nebraska near his girlfriend, Shannon.

Wilfred’s scheme is simple. He tells Arlette that he will leave the farm. To celebrate, he uncorks a few bottles of wine for her. Drunkenly singing bawdy songs, Arlette has no idea that her husband and son are about to murder her. When she is about to pass out, Wilfred helps Arlette to the bedroom. Henry puts a sack over her body and Wilfred slashes her throat. Although he has slashed the throats of many hogs, Wilfred is surprised by how extensively the blood sprays. However, he and Henry are careful not to step in the puddle of blood, and they haul Arlette’s corpse out of the house and throw it down the old well. Henry is shaken. Wilfred cleans up the bedroom, and he spreads word that Arlette ran away.

It looks like Wilfred and Henry are about to get away with the murder. However, Henry’s personality becomes sour even as his relationship with Shannon progresses and she becomes pregnant. Shannon’s father sends her away, but Henry finds her and they become robbers known as the “Sweetheart Bandits.” Back on the farm, Wilfred has begun to be haunted by rats. He also finds that he has become an outcast and leaves town as well as the farm for which he murdered. He even ends up selling the land to the hog butchery, though for less than he was originally offered. By the end of the story, Wilfred is alone in a hotel room, writing his story, and intent on killing himself before Arlette’s ghost and rats can catch up with him. However, he misplaces his gun and is eaten by rats. “1922” ends with a newspaper clipping that details how Wilfred James was found: alone, with bite marks on his body and a paper that was torn to shreds—as though it was eaten by rats.

"Big Driver"

The second story in Full Dark, No Stars is “Big Driver.” Tess is a successful mystery writer who puts aside money for her retirement by doing public readings at bookstores. Tess enjoys driving and often talks to her GPS unit. After her latest reading, the bookstore manager, Ramona Neville, suggests that Tess take an alternate route home on a quiet backcountry road. Tess agrees, but along the way she drives across a series of planks with nails run through them and gets a flat tire.

A very large local man, a “big driver,” stops to help Tess. However, Tess discovers boards with nails driven through them in the box of his truck. Before she can escape, the big driver knocks Tess unconscious. When she awakes, the big driver is in the midst of raping and assaulting her. When he finally finishes, he drags Tess into the woods. Tess pretends to be dead and the big driver abandons her in a culvert. Tess makes it back to the town, calls a limousine to take her home, and starts to think about what to do.

Tess considers phoning the police but is repulsed by the idea of her name being thrown about by the press. She is a somewhat famous mystery writer, and the author picture on the back of her books shows an attractive young woman. Tess dreads that people will say that she “was asking for it.” Instead, Tess tells her neighbor that she fell down the stairs. She returns to the town where she was raped to pick up her car and gets clues about the identity of the big driver, Al Strehlke, from the local bartender, Betsy. Upon further investigation, Tess discovers that the big driver is Ramona Neville’s son.

Tess is a mystery writer, and she finds herself devising a plan for revenge. She visits and confronts Ramona Neville, who at first pretends to be oblivious about what happened to Tess. However, Tess discovers her jewelry in Ramona’s living room. The two are soon locked in a fight to the death and Tess manages to stab Ramona. Next, Tess finds Ramona’s son and kills him, only to learn that it is actually the big driver’s little brother. However, she finds her purse and panties there and discovers that both brothers are involved with the rapes. Tess finally murders the big driver.

It seems that Tess will get away with murdering the Strehlke brothers and Ramona Neville to get her revenge. However, she realizes that she overlooked the bartender, Betsy, who might be able to put the police on her trail. Tess visits the...

(The entire section is 2270 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear