“Full Dark, No Stars” (Post 1/3)

Full Dark NS 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/3

Post 3/3


A 2010 collection of four novellas by Stephen King: “1922”, “Big Driver”, “Fair Extension” and “A Good Marriage”. I read a first edition hardcover.

5 out of 5 stars.

Here we are: my favorite Stephen King book.

These are dark, disturbing, black-hearted stories in the spirit of King’s first collection, Night Shift, though these stories don’t need the supernatural for their horror.

King is always a good writer. And sometimes he’s a great one.


1922

5 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Midwestern farmer Wilfred James kills his wife and enlists his fourteen-year-old son’s help in the cover-up. James gets away with the crime, at the cost of everything else.

A period piece set in Nebraska; an interesting set-up for an author who seems most comfortable in post-1950s Maine and Florida. King pulls off a neat trick in “1922”: I want Wilfred James to get away with the murder of his wife. Not because I agree with what he did – he’s a selfish ass – but because it is so damn stressful to be with this character through his paranoia.

[1] The narrative is a lengthy letter, beginning with:

My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession. In June of 1922 I murdered my wife.

(p.3)

It’s been done before but, hey, it works. I’m immediately in.

[2] Reference/Kingism:

The issue that led to my crime and damnation was 100 acres of good land in Hemingford Home, Nebraska.

(p.3)

Hemingford is a village in Box Butte County, Nebraska. The population was 803 at the 2010 census. The village’s name comes from the founder’s home of Hemmingford, Quebec. Stephen King adapted the name for the fictional town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska.

According to Stephen King wiki, Hemingford Home also appears in:

“The Last Rung on the Ladder”

“Children of the Corn”

The Stand

It

[3] When King puts a collection together, he often adds elements to thematically link the stories (or at least some of them). The whole “Do you love” thing from Skeleton Crew, for example (see “The Raft”, note [10]). For Full Dark, No Stars, he threads an idea of multiple selves existing within ourselves:

I believe that there is another man inside of every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man.

(p.4)

Because I was like one of those Russian nesting dolls? Perhaps. Perhaps every man is like that. Inside me was the Conniving Man, but inside the Conniving Man was a Hopeful Man.

(p.10)

“Big Driver”

“If you’re going to stay, you need to get out of sight,” Tom said… and no, that didn’t sound like her voice. Or not exactly like her voice. Perhaps it was the one that belonged to her deepest self, the survivor. And the killer – her, too. How many unsuspecting selves could a person have, hiding deep inside? She was beginning to think the number might be infinite.

(p.216)

“A Good Marriage”

Was that the voice of Smart Darcy or Stupid Darcy?

(p.300)

What she thought was: What am I going to do? I can’t fool him, we’ve been married too long.

A cold voice replied to that, one she had never suspected of being inside her (…)

Or perhaps it was the voice of the Darker Girl.

(p.331)

[4] Reference:

She went, of course, to the Farrington Company offices in Deland.

(p.7)

Not a city in Nebraska. There is a Deland, Florida.

[5]

“Mama, that’s not fair!”

She looked at her son as a woman might look at a strange man who had presumed to touch her arm.

(p.8)

[6]

The rage in his eyes was of the raw, pure sort that only adolescents can feel. It is rage that doesn’t count the cost.

(p.8)

[7] Reference:

“If she goes to Omaha, she’ll dig herself an ever deeper pit in Sheol.”

(p.9)

In the Hebrew Bible, Sheol is a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life.

[8] Reference:

By then she was singing “Avalon” in her best minstrel voice.

(p.13)

“Avalon” is a 1920 song written by Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva and Vincent Rose referencing Avalon, California. It was introduced by Jolson and interpolated in the musicals Sinbad and Bombo. Jolson’s recording rose to number two on the charts in 1921.

[9] Reference:

A jarring word-for-word rendition of “Dirty McGee.”

(p.13)

I can’t find references to this as a song.

[10] Reference:

In vino veritas, that’s what Pliny the Elder said…”

(p.15)

Latin for “in wine, truth.” Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia contains an early allusion to the phrase.

[11]

Yet there was a third presence in that room: her ineluctable will, which existed separate of the woman herself (I thought I sensed it then; these 8 years later I am sure). This is a ghost story, but the ghost was there even before the woman it belonged to died.

(p.17)

[12]

Let it be told quickly. On the nights when I can’t sleep – and there are many – it plays over and over again, every thrash and cough and drop of blood in exquisite slowness, so let it be told quickly.

(p.17)

[13] Vocabulary:

I tore the counterpane free from my side of the bed and wrapped it over her head, catching all but the first pulse from her jugular.

(p.19)

noun – (dated) – a bedspread.

[14] Reference:

He set the lamp down by the book I had been reading: Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street.

(p.20)

Main Street is a satirical novel written by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1920.

[15]

I remember thinking, This night will never end. And that was right. In all the important ways, it never has.

(p.22)

[16]

Things had already gone wrong, and I was starting to realize that a deed is never like the dream of a deed.

(p.24)

[17]

I discovered something that night that most people never have to learn: murder is sin, murder is damnation (…), but murder is also work.

(p.24)

[18] This story has two continuity mistakes (see note [60] for other). The first is what day the murder takes place.

Wilfred says, regarding the planned date of Arlette’s murder:

We settled on a Saturday night about halfway through a June that was as fine as any I can remember.

(p.10)

Which implies that the murder was done Saturday into Sunday, but after cleaning until “dawn began to lighten the sky in the east” (p.24), Wilfred tells Henry:

“You can stay home until Monday, then tell the teacher you had the grippe.”

(p.25)

I don’t think County School would be in session on a Sunday. Later in the story, there’s another implication that the murder was Thursday into Friday. Henry says to Wilfred, in front of an attorney:

“When you called me to breakfast Friday morning, she was gone. Packed and gone.”

(p.36)

[19] Vocabulary:

I grabbed the mattress and tupped it in [the well].

(p.26)

This word “tupped” is used three or so times, seeming to mean “tipped,” but the given definition is very different:

verb – (British) – (of a ram) copulate with (a ewe).

(vulgar slang) – (of a man) have sexual intercourse with (a woman).

I don’t know if “tupped” was slang with a different meaning in the 1920s or if this is just a quirk of our narrator.

[20] Reference:

A new washing machine out of the Monkey Ward catalogue.

(p.27)

Montgomery Ward was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872 as a dry goods mail-order business. The brand name of the store became embedded in the popular American consciousness and was often called by the nickname Monkey Ward, both affectionately and derisively.

Monkey Ward shows up in “A Good Marriage”, too (Post 3, note [119]).

[21] Reference:

Her atomizer bottle of Florient perfume.

(p.28)

Colgate & Company made a line of beauty products called “Florient: Flowers of the Orient” in the 1920s. Another wordpress blog (Old Main Artifacts) has a great post with old ads and information.

[22] Reference/Vocabulary:

“When I was a boy in Fordyce (…) Back in the buckboard days.”

(p.34)

Fordyce is a village in Cedar County, Nebraska. The population was 139 at the 2010 census. It was named for William B. Fordyce, a railroad dispatcher.

A buckboard is a four-wheeled wagon of simple construction meant to be drawn by a horse or other large animal. The “buckboard” is the front-most board on the wagon that could act as both a footrest for the driver and protection for the driver from the horse’s rear hooves in case of a “buck.”

[23] Idiom:

“Decamped. Took French leave.”

(p.34)

French leave is “leave of absence without permission or without announcing one’s departure,” including leaving a party without bidding farewell to the host. The phrase is first recorded in 1771 and was born at a time when the English and French cultures were heavily interlinked. In French, the equivalent phrase is filer a l’anglaise (“to leave English style”). In other languages with the phrase (Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Ukranian, Russian and Walloon), it is also “English,” not French. (Portuguese and Spanish uses “French” and the Germans call it “Polish leave.”)

[24]

He loved the girl (or thought he did, which comes to the same when you’re just going on 15).

(p.38)

[25]

Here is something I learned in 1922: There are always worse things waiting.

(p.42)

[26] This is wonderfully concise; says exactly what needs to be said and moves on:

Although Jones was too old to have been in the Great War, the holster looked like AEF property. Maybe it was his son’s. His son had died over there.

(p.45)

All of “1922” is a great example of King’s power when he reigns himself in and gets down to business.

[27] Vocabulary:

“Legal folderol.”

(p.46)

noun – trivial or nonsensical fuss.

(dated) – a showy but useless item.

[28] Reference:

“Bible says the man is the head of a woman, and that if a woman should learn any thing, it should be taught by her husband at home. Book of Corinthians.”

(p.46)

1 Corinthians 11: 3

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

1 Corinthians 14: 34-35

The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

[29]

My way was more Army-style, although my feet had kept me out of the war that had taken the Sheriff’s son. Can’t go kill Krauts if you have flat feet. Men with flat feet can only kill wives.

(p.48)

Can’t you feel this thing humming? King is on fire in this story.

[30] Reference:

“ ‘Better to be living in a wasteland than with a bitter-tongued, angry woman.’ Book of Proverbs.”

(p.49)

Proverbs 21:19

It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful woman.

[31] Kingism:

Tempus is fugiting right along.”

(p.49)

Also used in Gerald’s Game:

Tempus had gone fugiting merrily along.

The Sun Dog” (from Four Past Midnight):

“Tempus is fugiting away like mad.”

…and probably more. I know King didn’t come up with the phrase, but he sure likes it.

[32] Reference:

“Can I start the generator and play Hayride Party on the radio?”

(p.55)

I can’t find reference to a radio show named Hayride Party, though I’m guessing it existed. King did solid research for this story.

[33]

“If I got down on my knees, I think God would strike me dead.”

“If there is one,” I said.

“I hope there isn’t. It’s lonely, but I hope there isn’t.”

(p.55)

[34] Reference:

And so to bed, as Mr. Pepys says.

(p.56)

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an administrator of the navy of England and Member of Parliament who is most famous for the diary that he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. The quote “And so to bed” appeared many times in his diary.

We also looked Mr. Pepys up for Ghostwritten (note [170]).

[35] Reference:

For farmers out in the middle, the Great Depression started when the Chicago Agricultural Exchange crashed [in 1923].

(p.57)

I don’t know if the Chicago Agricultural Exchange was/is part of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (?). I also can’t find reference to a specific 1923 crash. Basically, I don’t know anything about the stock market or how to research its history.

[36] Reference:

The Shoshone reservation in Lyme Biska.

(p.59)

I think King created Lyme Biska, Nebraska for this story.

[37] It can’t be coincidental that this book-loving narrator has named his son Henry James, can it? Other than The Turn of the Screw, is there anything else about Henry James we should be keeping in mind?

Henry James (1843 – 1916) was an American-born British writer. James claimed that a text must first and foremost be realistic and contain a representation of life that is recognizable to its readers (see Post 3, note [139] for King’s comments on the same regarding Full Dark, No Stars).

[38] Reference:

She reared up like a horse (something I never saw a cow do before), and when she did, I saw a huge Norway rat clinging to one of her teats.

(p.62)

The brown rat is also referred to as common rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat, Norway rat, etc. It is one of the best known and most common rats. It is a brown or gray rodent with a body up to 10 inches long and a similar tail length. It is not known for certain why the brown rat is named Rattus norvegicus (Norwegian rat), as it did not originate from Norway.

[39]

“But we love each other!”

O, that loonlike cry. That milksop hoot.

(p.69)

[40]

I knew he didn’t want to sit – a man who’s mad and upset doesn’t feel good about sitting – but he did, just the same.

(p.71)

[41] Fact Check:

“I’d like to blame Sallie for not seeing the girl’s condition sooner, but first-timers usually carry high, everyone knows that.”

(p.71)

The way a pregnancy is “carried” (high on the woman’s abdomen or low near the pelvis) is determined by muscle and body type. According to health.howstuffworks.com:

Basically, the tighter a woman’s abdominal muscles (either due to age or fitness level), the higher the bump rides. An older woman or one who’s had her abdominal muscles loosened by prior pregnancies will usually carry lower.

So there is something to the statement that “first-timers usually carry high.”

[42] Reference:

“The females always want to get married, you see. And have babies. Join Eastern Star and sweep the God damned floor.”

(p.73)

The Order of the Eastern Star is a Masonic appendant body open to both men and women. It was established in 1850 by lawyer and educator Rob Morris, a noted Freemason. The order is based on teachings from the Bible, but is open to people of all religious beliefs. Notable members include Clara Barton and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

[43] Reference:

“The St. Eusebia Catholic Home for Girls in Omaha.”

(p.74)

St. Eusebia can refer to several Christian saints including Saint Xenia the Righteous of Rome (who was born with the name Eusebia), who died c.450. She helped the destitute, the grief-stricken and sinners.

There was also a Saint Eusebia (late 3rd century) who was a virgin-martyr in Bergamo, Italy.

The specific Catholic Home for Girls in Omaha appears to have been invented.

[44]

His lips curled in an expression of contempt that turned my dislike of him to hate. It happened in an instant.

(p.75)

[45] Reference:

In the corner, the Regulator clock ticked away quiet slices of time.

(p.80)

Another term for a pendulum clock.

[46] Idiom:

“I’m going to talk to you like a Dutch Uncle.”

(p.80)

noun – (North American; informal) – a person giving firm but benevolent advice.

During the Anglo-Dutch Wars between England and the Netherlands in the 17th century, the English language gained an array of insults starting with “Dutch” (including “Dutch uncle”).

[47] Vocabulary:

Even if he hadn’t considered the possibility of the outraged swain making an appearance at the site of his lady-love’s durance vile, Sister Camille would have.

(p.83)

Durance vile is defined as a very long prison sentence.

[48] Reference:

“ ‘We are all bound in error,’ that’s what the book says.”

(p.87)

Looking through instances of “bound” and “error” in the Bible, I can’t find a passage that resembles this.

[49] Reference:

I sat trying to read The House of the Seven Gables.

(p.90)

The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic novel written beginning in mid-1859 by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The novel follows a New England family and their ancestral home. Hawthorne explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement and colors the tale with suggestions of the supernatural and witchcraft.

[50] Reference:

I limped into the kitchen (…) thinking in a confused way of the oracle warning Pelias to beware of a man wearing just one sandal. But I was no Jason.

(p.94)

Pelias was king of Iolcus in Greek mythology. Pelias, paranoid that he would be overthrown, was warned by an oracle to beware a man wearing one sandal. When Jason later entered Iolcus wearing one sandal, Pelias sent him to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Pelias was ultimately killed by his daughters.

[51] Around page 96, after our narrator has been bitten by a rat, the story develops an incongruous modern twang. The taut narrative web begins to show some flaws and Wilfred James begins to sound a lot like other King narrators. And rats are definitely King’s horror familiars. My God, the man loves using rats.

I tried to imagine my body’s defenses mobilizing and arriving at the scene of the bite like tiny firemen in red hats and long canvas coats.

(p.97)

[52] I love that the suggestion of supernatural in this story can also be interpreted as fevered delusion. We have a narrator who is going mad; ghosts don’t have to be the answer. Also, the scene of Arlette coming back with the rats (her “royal court”) is wicked.

She came into the kitchen, moving with a horribly boneless gait that had nothing to do with walking.

(p.100)

[53] Reference:

Between the candy store and the notions shoppe.

(p.102)

A North American slang definition of “notion”: items used in sewing, such as buttons, pins, and hooks.

[54] Reference:

She was (…) very fond of Sweet Caporals.

(p.103)

The Kinney Brother Tobacco Company was a cigarette manufacturer that created the Sweet Caporal brand of cigarettes in 1878. Sweet Caporals was a popular brand in the early part of the 20th century.

[55] Reference:

“Buddy, for a 2-spot, I’d tuck a bugle under my arm and take a message to Garcia.”

(p.104)

A Message to Garcia is a best-selling inspirational essay by Elbert Hubbard, published in 1899. The essay bemoans the difficulty of finding employees who obey instructions without needless questions, work diligently without supervision, etc.

According to language expert Charles Earle Funk, “to take a message to Garcia” was for years a popular American slang expression for taking initiative and is still used by some members of the military.

In a (likely unintended) link to “Big Driver”, Richard Widmark (Post 2, note [67]) starred in a 30-minute radio adaptation of A Message to Garcia.

[56] Reference:

“I was lying in a pool of blood damn near an inch deep. I bet it took a whole box of Dreft to get that mess up.”

(p.105)

Dreft is a laundry detergent in the United States, first produced by Procter & Gamble in 1933.

This is the first product continuity mistake in the story. I’ll give King a pass; he’s done a great job otherwise.

[57] Reference:

He drove off in a Hupmobile.

(p.107)

Hupmobile was an automobile built from 1909 through 1930 by the Hupp Motor Car Company.

[58]

“I can’t go any farther, honey, put me on the ground.”

“What about the baby?” he asked her.

“The baby is dead, and I want to die, too,” she said. “I can’t stand the pain. It’s terrible. I love you, honey, but put me on the ground.”

(p.110)

[59] Reference:

He might have gone on if he hadn’t also spied a scuffed ladies’ patent leather shoe and a pair of pink step-ins lying in the ditch.

(p.114)

Step-in usually refers to slip-on shoes, which is what confused me about the sentence (a leather shoe and a pair of pink shoes seemed weird), but “step-ins” is also a dated North American term for women’s underwear. Did not know that.

[60] The second continuity mistake (note [18]):

The day after Christmas, a huge blizzard roared out of the Rockies, socking us with a foot of snow and gale-force winds.

(p.118)

The storm causes part of Wilfred’s roof and the roof of the barn to cave in. He brings his last cow into the house with him. But then he says:

On Christmas morning (which I spent sipping whiskey in my cold sitting room, with my surviving cow for company), I counted what was left of the mortgage money, and realized it would not begin to cover the damage done by the storm.

(p.118 – 119)

I think the storm was supposed to take place on Christmas Eve (“The day before Christmas”); the whiskey-sipping and money-counting done on Christmas morning.

[61]

I went outside and patted Achelois on the head. She stretched her neck up and lowed plaintively. Make it stop. You’re the master, you’re the god of my world, so make it stop.

I did.

Happy New Year.

(p.124)

[62] “1922” ends with a newspaper article that leaves everything hanging and uneasy. Wilfred James will forever be tormented because the truth never came out. We will remember this story forever because it didn’t go the expected route. The truth is supposed to get out. It has to. But King is very clever. If he had stretched this to novel length, ending things unresolved would be unacceptable. In a novella, you can leave more in the air without angering your audience.


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