"The Dark Half" by Stephen King Book Review

"The Dark Half" by Stephen King is a paranormal horror novel about a writer and the dark part of him that writes crime fiction. In this novel, the dark half of Thad Beaumont's imagination comes to life and terrorizes Thad and everyone involved in Thad's attempt to write the novels that he wants to write -- not the crime novels of his dark half's choosing. The story is filled with Stephen King's signature gross outs and small town personalities. Overall, the effect is memorable. Though "The Dark Half" is not King's best novel, it is far from being a flop.

At the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to the 11-year-old version of Thad Beaumont. He is a nice boy who aspires to be a writer. However, soon after he begins writing, he hears the phantom sound of a huge flock of sparrows. He also has headaches and, eventually, a seizure. His concerned mother takes him to a doctor while his distant and crude father wonders what healing his son is going to do to his wallet. A neurologist tells them that Thad has a brain tumor. When he operates, he finds what the reader later learns are the physical remnants of Thad's dark half -- an eyeball, some teeth and other scraps of a twin that Thad fused with in utero.

Thad Beaumont does grow up to be a writer and completely overcomes his neurological health issues. He marries, writes a string of successful novels and has two children -- twins. Everything is going okay until Thad decides to do an interview during which he declares his pen name -- George Stark -- dead. He no longer wants to write novels under that name as he and his wife find George's writing process unhealthy and far removed from Thad's own writing process. As "The Dark Half" develops, a string of murders, all connected to that magazine interview begins. The Beaumonts and their associates are terrorized by what Thad is convinced is the supernatural incarnation of his pseudonym.

As most Stephen King fans know, King once wrote under a pseudonym of his own -- Richard Bachmann. This was in the early years of King's career, but he certainly wrote some of his best novels under his pen name. He also killed off his pseudonym so he could "come out" as a writer. Therefore, in a way, "The Dark Half" is semi autobiographical. The connection Thad feels to his Stark novels, among other things, clearly come from King's experience. However, the truck stops there. As far as we know, King didn't cannibalize his twin in his mother's uterus and he was never haunted by the ghost of his pen name, as Thad was in "The Dark Half," at least not in the literal sense. Nonetheless, his own experiences as a career author give him a great perspective on the life of a writer, so we cannot help but see a bit of King in Beaumont. Of course, you cannot help but see a bit of King in George Stark, either.

As far as recommending "The Dark Half" by Stephen King, I would only recommend it to someone who has already read and enjoyed another King novel. It is a not a starter Stephen King, so to speak. You have to have an appreciation for Stephen King to have an appreciation for "The Dark Half." For those who are just wandering into the horror genre, I would recommend starting with a commercially successful King work, such as "The Green Mile," "Shawshank Redemption," or "The Body." Those readers who enjoy their spooks and icks, I would recommend, "It," "Salem's Lot," "The Stand" or "Pet Sematary." If you want to get the crap scared out of you, go with the latter. Then, work your way to "The Dark Half."

Shelly Barclay

"The Devil of Nanking" by Mo Hayder Book Review

"They Devil of Nanking" by Mo Hayder is a surprise of a novel. In many ways, this is a good thing. In other ways, it was unpleasant. Mo Hayder is an excellent writer and apparently does her research. However, "The Devil of Nanking" was handled a little oddly.

Given the name, one would think that most, if not all, of the sadism in "The Devil of Nanking" would take place in 1937 Nanking, China, but that is not the case. The book alternates between Tokyo, Japan in 1990 and Nanking, China in 1937. In Mo Hayder's version of Tokyo, there are sadists around every corner and there is a great deal of sexual violence and implied sexual violence. The violence that takes place in Nanking is only hinted at until the latter half of the novel. While the Nanking violence is expected, given historical accounts of the events that took place in Nanking, the Tokyo violence is a little much. I am not opposed to violence, be it sexual or otherwise, in my novels, but I found it out of place in a novel about Nanking. In fact, and you will rarely hear me say this, I found it distasteful given the subject matter of the book. It takes away from the history, which is the sole reason I picked up the book.

With the above being said, Mo Hayder did not do a bad job with the direction she decided to take the book. It is over the top, but it is well written. In fact, I initially thought I would not want to finish the book. Despite my unwillingness to read about a group of tortuous sexual sadists and a naive girl lost in the midst of them, I found myself pulled into the story. Any writer who leaves answers dangling until later in the book can do this to me. I am one of those readers who has to know. If you are the same, you will find yourself whizzing through "The Devil of Nanking." I read it in a single night.

As for Hayder's handling of the Nanking parts of the book, I found them interesting, for the most part. Of course, she went a little over the top, which was unnecessary. One does not need to stray from fact to make the events of the Rape of Nanking horrifying. Nonetheless, most of it was the struggle of a man and wife trying to survive hidden in their home in Nanking. That was touching and did much to redeem the otherwise B-movie caliber violence in the novel.

Would I suggest this book to someone else? Yes, I know people whose tastes run to the poorly done macabre. I also think the novel is worth reading, just not worth reading twice for me. I prefer my modern senseless violence to be crammed into a book like "A Clockwork Orange." I also prefer my books on Holocaust level violence in history to be respectful of the subject matter. There is no need to embellish, but that is exactly what Mo Hayder did.

Shelly Barclay

Summary and Review of "The Jaunt" by Stephen King

"The Jaunt" by Stephen King is my personal favorite short story from him. It has elements of both horror and science fiction. In it, Stephen King takes the well-known science fiction concept of teleportation and turns it into a futuristic horror story. A lot of what is the "horror" in this story is left to the imagination, but what we do know of that horror is so mind boggling that it is one of the most powerful concepts King has ever come up with.

The name of the story comes from the name teleportation is given in "The Jaunt." The story begins as a man, his wife and their two children are getting ready to teleport or "jaunt" from the Earth to Mars. The man has done this several times, but his children are new to it and so he decides to tell them the history of the jaunt. King takes the reader back to the 1980s and a fictional Earth where resources are dangerously low and starvation is spreading like an epidemic across the globe. An old, eccentric scientist is trying to develop a means of teleportation to solve all of these problems and he is successful. However, there is a problem.

When the scientist puts his test mice through his teleportation device, they come back dead or near dead. The ones that come back near death exhibit strange behavior. As the story progresses, the reader learns that the body teleports in mere seconds, but those seconds are an eternity to the mind. The problem is fixed by putting anything that is jaunting alive to sleep before teleportation, including humans. The father knows horror stories of humans coming through the jaunt awake, but he keeps the sordid details from the children, allowing only the reader to know just how horrible the jaunt truly is.

*Spoiler ahead

Finally, as they wait to jaunt, the attendants come around to put the family to sleep. After a few moments, the father wakes up in Mars to the sound of his wife screaming. He goes to where his wife was pointing to see his son laying there with yellowed eyes and white hair. The boy yells to his father that he faked taking the gas to sleep and that it is longer than eternity in the jaunt before screaming and tearing at his eyeballs. The father refers to the boy as an old "it" inside of his son's body. King's description of this moment has stuck with me since the first time I read it so many years ago.

Shelly Barclay

Review of "Cain Rose Up" by Stephen King

"Cain Rose Up" is a short (very short) story in Stephen King's "Skeleton Crew" anthology. It is the story of a young man who decides to go on a killing spree from the window of his college dorm. He uses a rifle that he snuck into the school. The interesting thing about King's rendering of the topic, and a common theme with this topic and Stephen King, is that the story does not drag you into the horror and sadness of victims. It brings you into the world of the killer, who you must presume is something of a victim himself.

The main character of "Cain Rose Up," Curt Garrish, says goodbye to some of his dorm mates, as it is the end of the year, makes some internal observations about them, locks his door, gets his gun and starts shooting out of the window. It really is that short of a story. In the end, you do not even know how far Curt eventually goes, though you know he already has a few victims. It takes a minute after reading the story to realize that it was a good story. It is so brief that you have so many questions, but then you find yourself answering all of those questions from experience. Unfortunately, college killing sprees are not fiction.

One of the main questions "Cain Rose Up" poses to the reader is why did Curt do it? People seem to want to talk to him, as evidenced by the dialogue in the story. He has a father who buys him things and he has good grades. His inner dialogue and visions are somewhat disturbing, but the reason for this and the reason he manifests them outside of his mind is never mentioned. This leaves the reader with the interesting opportunity to fill in the blanks.

Was Curt like Charles Whitman who had psychological issues, a brain tumor and a drug problem? Was he like Seung-Hui Cho, who had been rejected by girls and who had nursed his own psychological problems under his school's radar? You just do not know in this story. Like Lionel Shriver's "We Need to Talk about Kevin," "Cain Rose Up" reminds us that homicidal youths have a tendency to slip through the cracks.

Shelly Barclay

The Mist by Stephen King Review

"The Mist" by Stephen King is a novella found in his short story anthology "Skeleton Crew." It is the story of a small town in Maine that is overcome by a storm one evening. The following morning, as residents begin to clean up and rebuild, a mist begins to creep toward the town. It is a mist like none of them have ever seen and it makes a few residents, particularly our protagonist David Drayton, uneasy. When the mist hits the town, residents both indoors and outdoors realize that not only is the mist an unknown, but untold numbers of nightmarish creatures live in the mist and are waiting for their human prey to wander outside or give them a way in.

Like so many other Stephen King stories and novels, "The Mist" reads like a gripping study in human behavior. King has keen insight into the emotions of all the character types he uses -- from the worried, protective father and hero in disguise types to the loud mouth coward and charismatic yet crazy leader types. "The Mist" is no exception. From the word go in this novella, Stephen King is developing characters and character histories that lead the reader to a culmination of each character's inner person, so to speak. As the horror begins to engulf the town, David Drayton is trapped in a grocery store with his son and dozens of others. As the horror of what is outside begins to make cracks in everyone's sanity, we see extreme religiosity, charisma, foolishness, despair, desperation and bravery. It all unfolds in such a way that the reader can see his or her neighbors among the victims. This is how Mr. Smith would react, etc. That is the beauty of some of Stephen King's work. The surroundings or antagonists are impossible and horrible, but there is something very realistic and earthy about his characters.

The entire book is told from David Drayton's perspective, so where he goes, the reader goes. This is good because most other characters either go to their deaths or stay stuffed into a grocery store. David is worried about his wife at home, who is most likely dead, and the son beside him, who is rapidly losing the innocence of childhood. David is the quintessential good guy, trying to do the right thing, even if he is sometimes wrong. He is met with some serious opposition in the book, namely a crazed woman who wants to murder someone to please god. However, he is one of the few characters who do not give into a gimmick to ease his fear. This makes the read a little less horrible than it could have been, considering the reader does not have to be along for the ride in the mind of an insane person.

Sometimes in horror, the writer only touches on what is horrible about the story. They use methods that leave the readers to their imaginations. These are quite effective methods. However, Stephen King rarely does this. He drags his readers straight into the sh*t with him. In "The Mist", we have a little bit of both. The size of the mist is unknown and no one can see what is there until he gets close, which is often too late. Therefore, the reader knows that there are horrors lurking in the mist. The evidence is in the creatures that get close enough to kill. This is when Stephen King drags you in the shi*t. He introduces you to dinosaur-sized gray masses, dog-sized spiders, tentacles that lead off into the mist and flying insectile creatures that are too large and evil looking. However, you are still left to wonder what else is out there in the mist. It is a very enjoyable mix of two writing methods.

When it comes to the horror genre Stephen King is among the most prolific, talented and popular novelists of all time. Stories like "The Mist" show exactly why this is. King has a way of keeping widespread disaster from becoming grandiose. He has a way of bringing readers the small town characters that they may recognize from their own lives, thus making them wonder what the people around them would do in a Kingesque situation.

Shelly Barclay

Review of "The Monkey" by Stephen King

In "The Monkey" from "Skeleton Crew," Stephen King takes on the evil toy come to life genre with finesse. From films like Child's Play to stories like Algernon Blackwood's "The Doll," the idea of children's toys coming to life to terrorize their innocent owners is, well, horrifying. This may be because of the vulnerability of children and good parents' tendency to imagine the worst of even the most minor threats. It could also be because their lifeless eyes and mirthless grins haunt us from childhood. Whatever the reason, toys with faces are scary and no one does scary better than Stephen King.

The antagonist in "The Monkey" is, predictably, a toy monkey. You know the kind, the straight from the underworld mangy faces with the oval eyes, toothy grins and cacophonous clanging cymbals. King hints that this monkey started just like any other horrible gift idea of a toy monkey, but somewhere along the line, somehow, it took on a life and personality of its own. Without describing much more than its unwilling owner's perspective of the monkey, Stephen King manages to convey to the reader that the toy monkey is ruthless and insane. It enjoys horrifying a little boy and the man he becomes.

Brilliantly, Stephen King initially leaves the truth of the monkey's "personality" ambiguous. Is it the boy's imagination, a sane person has to wonder? However, by the end, our protagonist has proven himself to the reader and is now in a race to save the next generation of monkey owners from a mean spirited toy. In the end, the reader has a brief sense of relief. Our protagonist has won! Wait . . . is the monkey still making its deadly music? If not, what has become of the evil that lived inside of it?

Shelly Barclay

Here There Be Tygers by Stephen King: Short Story Review

"Here There Be Tygers" is a short -- very short -- story from Stephen King's "Skeleton Crew." To be honest, I think the story is meant to speak to men and their boyhood journeys to the boys' bathroom in school. I say that because I can only imagine that there was something about the boys' bathroom that led Stephen King to write this unlikely story in which the antagonists are a teacher and a tiger.

A few things about this story are relatable. 1. The teacher knowingly embarrasses a child in front of the entire class. 2. The child is afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. 3. The child's inner dialogue switches between panic and inappropriate names for his mean teacher. All of these things are instantly recognizable from most of our childhoods. There were also a few things that were not quite understandable. 1. Is the boy confusing basement with bathroom or is he obsessing over the basement while going to the bathroom? 2. Is the boy's imagination overactive or are the of this world, but really odd events in the story actually taking place?

"Here There By Tygers" is so short and encased in such a wonderful short story anthology that one barely has time to question Stephen King before moving on to "The Monkey," which has haunted me since my teenage years. However, once you get the chance to sit back and think of it, assuming you remembered it after poring through the rest of "Skeleton Crew," you can't help but wonder about deeper meaning. I mean, there has to be a deeper meaning, right or did that just really happen in a school bathroom?!?!?!?! At least, was King trying to convey that it really happened or was he masking some kind of . . . Oh, forget it. One can only speculate. It will only take two minutes. Read it yourself and please tell me what you think.

Shelly Barclay

Review of "The Queen's Governess" by Karen Harper

"The Queen's Governess" by Karen Harper is another in a long list of historical fiction novels about the life of Anne Boleyn. Some of these novels are good; some are horrible. Harper's novel falls into the former portion. This novel is from a relatively fresh perspective and is intriguing while doing justice to the lives of a number of historical figures.

Katherine Ashley is the woman who practically raised Queen Elizabeth I or "The Virgin Queen." While her life was interesting, living amongst the insane and powerful Tudors, she is often overshadowed by the figures that lived in her lifetime. There is, of course, King Henry VIII and his drove of murdered and divorced wives. Anne Boleyn, the royal slut or victim of a King's lust, depending on how you look at it. There is Queen Mary or "Bloody Mary," half sister of Elizabeth. Others include Lady Jane Grey, Kathryn Howard, Thomas Seymour and a barrage of other shocking, scheming, victimized or otherwise dramatic people. Karen Harper manages to do Katherine's life justice in "The Queen's Governess" as well as the myriad of courtiers surrounding her. The novel is told from her perspective.

There are a number of places in the novel where Howard clearly needs to resort to choosing the most reliable gossip or to filling in gaps. She must also choose which theories are the most likely in many cases, as in with the identity of Katherine Ashley's family. However, her adherence to the truth is nearly unheard of in such a novel with such a "backburner" narrator. She rarely embellishes to a distracting point.

For those readers who are not familiar with this point in the Tudor history, "The Queen's Governess" is intriguing enough and the history itself is intriguing enough to reel them in. My suggestion would be to keep a notebook handy so the names of unknown characters can be written down and researched a little later. The story goes so far beyond what a single book can contain, so readers are bound to be interested the spiderweb of drama that reaches out from the core of Karen Harper's story.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

"The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" by Katherine Howe, apart from having an enticing title, is a historical fiction novel about a family of female witches that takes place in various towns near Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, the clichés are just oozing out of this one. However, I have to say that Katherine Howe did passing well on this book, despite the obvious issue of writing on a topic that is so overdone as to be inedible. Her saving grace is her adherence to history, as well as her glimpses into the past.

In the interest of being honest, it must be said that some parts of this novel, especially near the beginning/middle, seem a little forced. Some parts are overly descriptive. Some parts are generic -- especially the romantic bits. It must also be said that the identity of the antagonist, though presumably obscured by Katherine Howe, is rather obvious from the beginning. Not a bit of this book was surprising in the slightest. However, it really did have its pleasant points.

The setting of this novel, while cliché, is unerringly charming. New England is the setting for a great many books for a good reason. Katherine Howe displays a working knowledge of the area and its aesthetic. Some of the characters are cutesy or are as cliché as the story of a family of female witches from Salem, but they also belong in a story like this, to an extent. What is great about this novel are the references to real history. Not to mention the flashbacks to the Colonial times in Massachusetts history. Katherine Howe shines during these chapters and her expertise is obvious. Had the whole book been based in that period, I would have had nary a complaint about it. That is a bit of a bummer, considering the fact that the modern pieces seem to be an attempt at originality in a played out story.

Overall, Katherine Howe's "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" is a slightly better than average witch story. I sincerely hope to see something along the same lines, but with more willingness to delve completely into historical fiction, as her knack for colonial attitudes far exceeds her knack for developing modern college age characters.

Shelly Barclay