(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Following fifteen previous Stephen King horror novels, including the immensely popular Carrie (1974), ’Salem’s Lot (1975), and The Shining (1977), The Dark Half exploits fictions within fiction and paranormal phenomena that mystify and terrorize a cast of plausible characters.

Thad Beaumont, the protagonist, has been a successful novelist whose most popular works were written under the pseudonym “George Stark.” Writing as Stark, Beaumont created a fearsome embodiment of evil, a ruthless, robotlike killer named Alexis Machine. The gruesome fictional horrors perpetrated by Machine were responsible for Beaumont/Stark’s sales and literary notoriety.

Trouble begins, however, when Beaumont determines to abandon his Stark pseudonym and decides to write serious works under his own name. From the moment of this decision, he is incapacitated by writer’s block. He even suspects that he can write successfully only as Stark. Meanwhile, Beaumont’s former agent, the sleazy Frederick Clawson, reveals to People magazine that Stark is Beaumont, a fact that Beaumont acknowledges in an interview that culminates in the mock burial of George Stark and Beaumont’s confirmation that Stark’s career has terminated. A fiction or not, Stark refuses to stay buried in his mock grave. Ghoul-like, he emerges and launches a campaign of terror and grisly murders among Beaumont’s associates and loved ones. The objective of his brutal rampage is to force Beaumont formally to resurrect him and to recommence writing, this time under Stark’s direction. Confused, menaced, and terrorized by a Stark who may or may not be a monster of his own creation, Beaumont is plunged into a seemingly endless nightmare as he tries to gain credibility with his wife, his friends, and the sheriff and to cope with and then subdue Stark.

Mystery, suspense, and plausibility are lent to this scenario by King’s recital in The Dark Half’s prologue of a critical event in...

(The entire section is 825 words.)