Admittedly, I hadn’t read a Stephen King novel in years. Wizard and Glass was my last one, smack in the middle of the Gunslinger series, and that was, what, 1996? 1997? I’ve watched everything by him since then float on by the bestseller racks with hardly a second glance. Didn’t used to be like that, though. King was one of the first Grown Up novelists I ever read. My first book of his was Cujo, I think, because the movie had just come out. Pretty adult stuff for a smart, shy, bespectacled ten-year-old who was coming off Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey, but then again my parents never paid attention what I brought out of the library; by the time they caught on I had plowed through four more of his novels and the damage was already done.
But yeah, aside from taking the occasional book down off the shelf to revisit (regular reads: the Dead Zone, the Shining, the Eyes of the Dragon, Different Seasons) I’ve become enamored with other things. So a few days ago I saw Duma Key on the new arrival rack and without anything to read over break I decided to give the old fling another shot.
As always: glad I did. Duma Key is about a well-off contractor, Edgar Freemantle, who loses and arm and suffers a serious blow to the head in an industrial accident. After a separation from his wife, he decides to head down to Florida to recover and to reacquaint himself with his old hobby, drawing. He rents a house on Duma Key and finds that the small, almost abandoned island sparks his creativity, and he paints beautiful yet surreal paintings filled with power. He discovers he can use his art to see events happening miles away, and in several cases, is able to draw things in and out of existence.
There’s a mystery on Duma Key, of course, and the full and terrifying power behind his abilities is tangled up with the island’s history and the childhood of the house’s owner, a wealthy octogenarian with Alzheimers’ Disease.
The full mystery behind the island isn’t nearly as interesting as how King gets us there. He’s still a master storyteller, immersing us in the narrative of Freemantle’s accident, recovery, move to Duma Key, and the discovery of his artistic skills. It’s astonishingly absorbing in and of itself. (I’m assuming that King here draws heavily on his own accident and recovery.) The plot is almost secondary as you just want to kick back and hang out with the characters. Aside from Edgar and the old woman, the woman’s salty, congenial caretaker, Wireman, nearly steals every scene he’s in and ranks as one of King’s most memorable characters. (And is destined to be played in the movie by a tanned Jeffery Dean Morgan.)
Perfect beach read with a fun narrative and enough mystery in it to keep you involved? Hell, yes. You’ll find yourself rocketing through this freakin’ doorstop of a novel. And maybe saying hello to an old friend.