Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2270
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.
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.
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 bartender, who admits to having been raped by her stepfather. Betsy’s mother convinced her not to tell the police and was raped several more times. Betsy explains that three-fifths of raped women refuse to report having been raped; thus many rapists go unpunished. Tess and Betsy agree to keep silent about the deaths of the Strehlke brothers.
“Fair Extension” tells the story of Dave Streeter, who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. While on a drive, Dave comes across a store that sells extensions. The proprietor, George Elvid (an anagram for “devil”), explains to Dave that he sells extensions of all sorts, including an extension of sanity or an extension of height. He offers to sell Dave an extension of life that will last fifteen years in return for fifteen percent of Dave’s annual income. In most deals with the devil, the mortal is conned, but Elvid is very clear that Dave will likely live a happy life. He also admits that the catch is simple: Dave has to transfer his pain and sickness onto someone he hates.
Although he is at first reluctant to admit to hating anyone, Dave eventually admits that he hates Tom Goodhugh, his best friend since grammar school. Tom was a popular jock in high school, and Dave had to help him pass his courses even after Tom stole his girlfriend, Nancy. Tom and Nancy went on to marry after she got pregnant, and Dave went on to happily marry another woman. However, Dave remains indignant. Later, Dave became a banker and pushed through a loan for Tom that allowed him to become a millionaire success—far more successful than Dave, in fact. Dave and Elvid make a deal.
Dave is not entirely convinced that Elvid can deliver on his promises. However, within a week, his cancer disappears. Soon Tom’s wife dies. Over the following years, things get worse and worse for the Goodhugh family. Their business loses money and comes under investigation. Tom’s son suffers a crippling heart attack, and his daughter delivers a stillborn child. Meanwhile, life gets better and better for the Streeter family. King chronicles the following years, cataloging the horrible details of the Goodhugh family and the fantastic fortune of the Streeter family as well as the crimes of American celebrities, noting that Kiefer Sutherland has been caught driving under the influence multiple times. He also mentions political events, including that the American economy has since entered a recession.
Life for the Goodhughs and America may be tough, but the Streeters are happy and prosperous. It seems that life has been very “fair” to them, no matter how much it has tested Tom Goodhugh and his family. Each year, Dave continues to pay Elvid his money. However, as the story ends, Dave is happy but finds himself wishing for just a little more.
"A Good Marriage"
“A Good Marriage” is the final novella in Full Dark, No Stars. Darcy and Bob have been married for twenty-seven years, and they know everything about each other. Bob is an accountant and together they run a side business that deals in collectible coins. Bob’s dream is to find a 1955 double-die penny. Bob’s businesses sometimes require him to travel for a day or two. During one such trip, Darcy discovers a secret compartment in her garage. In that compartment, she finds the identification of Marjorie Duvall, the latest victim of “Beadie,” a serial killer. For decades, Beadie has mutilated and raped women, disposed of the bodies, and then taunted the police with notes.
Darcy cannot bring herself to believe that her husband of twenty-seven years could be a serial killer. Her husband calls while she is still struck by the notion that he could be a murderer. Although he notices that something is bothering her, Darcy explains that she was only thinking of her sister, who died while they were young. Bob has always understood these moods because he lost his best friend, Brian Delahanty, in high school. However, when she researches the murders online, she finds that her husband was away during each of them. That night, she awakes to discover that her husband realized that she was lying on the phone.
Bob explains that he and his friend Brian Delahanty, whom Bob called “BD” (“Beadie”) for his initials, had planned to attack their high school with guns and rape the snooty girls. Brian died before they could carry out their plan, but Bob explains that he has since felt haunted by his friend’s death. This is why he went on to rape and kill women. However, he maintains that he only attacked the snoots. In all that time, he has never been caught or pursued and has only once been questioned by an old cop. Even then, he was questioned as a witness. Bob asks Darcy to help him refrain from killing again so they can live together from this point on. Also, turning him in would ruin her life and the lives of their children.
Darcy is reluctant, and she thinks she will never be able to fool her husband. However, upon reflection, she decides that maybe she can fool him. After all, he fooled her. As a child, she used to think that mirrors were the gateway to a different reality. Now that she has begun to help her husband evade justice, she feels that she has crossed to the wrong side of the mirror. Everything may be backwards, but it is working. Bob does not kill again, and Darcy finds that she is able to fool him.
They carry on in this way for several months until one day when Bob comes home with a 1955 double-die penny. Bob is ecstatic and they go out to celebrate. Bob drinks a bit too much; when they get home, he proposes that they have sex. Darcy goes upstairs to the bedroom but asks Bob to bring her a drink from the kitchen. When Bob follows her up the stairs, Darcy pushes him back down them. At the bottom, his arms and neck are broken and he is bleeding, but he still lives. Darcy rushes into the kitchen, finds a plastic bag and a cloth, and uses them to choke her husband to death.
At first it seems that she will get away with the murder. The initial responders accept her story and even comfort Darcy. However, one day a retired detective knocks on her door—the same one who once questioned her husband. Holt Ramsey questions Darcy and explains to her the several reasons he suspects her husband of having been the serial killer known as Beadie. Although she is worried that he will reveal her story to the public or that he will arrest her for murder, she finds herself feeling relief that her husband was not as invincible a killer as he had thought. Upon leaving, Holt admits that he knew everything that happened as soon as he saw Darcy, and he thanks her for stopping Bob. As he leaves, Darcy finds herself feeling like she has returned to the right side of the mirror.
In the Afterword of Full Dark, No Stars, King admits that his stories are especially dark. However, he explains that “story fiction” is not a “literary game” but rather an important art by which people attempt to make sense of their lives. Although the stories he tells are among the darkest in his body of work, King also points out that he believes that most people are essentially good, or at least he knows he is. In a final address to the reader, King concludes, “It’s you I’m not entirely sure about.”
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