Book Review: Full Dark, No Stars

What scares you most about yourself? Is it the other person you hide just beneath your facade? The one you pretend doesn’t exist – the one capable of performing acts you could never commit on your own? That primeval fear is confronted in Stephen King’s new book, Full Dark, No Stars.

First, let’s clarify what Full Dark, No Stars is not. It isn’t a classic Stephen King horror story filled with vampires, scary monsters or zombies. It won’t have you looking under your bed at night for a pair of glowing eyes or wondering what’s lurking in your closet while you cower beneath your covers. Instead, you’ll be pondering a much darker thought, “Am I the real monster disguised in a costume of skin and hair?”

Released this past November, Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four short novellas, each containing seemingly ordinary characters thrown into life-altering situations. These situations force the characters to expose their real inner selves. In the first story, “1922,” “Conniving Man” appears to everyone around him as a soft-spoken Nebraska farmer, good neighbor and family man, but he is actually a paranoid murderer who annihilates his loved ones. And in “Fair Extension,”“Jealous Man" gleefully destroys his best friend’s life and family while disguising himself on the outside as a cancer-ridden man facing death.

The writing quality of Full Dark, No Stars is definitely Stephen King good. The stories flow smoothly and have a perfectly calculated pace. King also subconsciously pulls you into his dark tales with main characters who are easy to identify with and could almost be any of us.

On the surface, this feeling of familiarity may make the characters and plots in Full Dark, No Stars feel a little humdrum, but readers beware. The real hook of this book and its general theme – “Who is that secret person inside of me and what are they capable of?” – successfully nibbles at your thoughts long after you finish reading the stories. They leave you asking the same question again and again, “If I were in the same situation, what would I be willing to do?”

There are also a couple of interesting side notes about Full Dark, No Stars. First, King uses the name Rhoda Penmark for a minor character in the story “1922.” This is also the name of the main character in William March’s classic 1954 novel, The Bad Seed, which caused a stir because it was one of the first novels written about a child serial killer. In The Bad Seed, Rhoda was a child who looked like an angel on the outside, but on the inside she was a jealous, manipulative murderer. It is unknown whether Stephen King used this name on purpose, but either way, it is still an interesting coincidence.

The other fascinating note centers on the last story, “A Good Marriage,” about a couple with a seemingly perfect marriage of 27 years. One day, the wife unexpectedly discovers that her kind, devoted spouse is actually “The Darker Husband,” a demented torturer who loves to rape and kill women. Once the wife discovers her husband’s crimes, she must decide what to do. Stephen King based this story on the true account of the BTK Killer of Wichita, Kansas, Dennis Rader, whose wife also says she had no idea of her husband’s true identity.

Full Dark, No Stars is definitely a psychological thriller with dark themes and even darker endings that is absolutely worth picking up and reading. But be cautious if you do – because the next time you stop to look in the mirror, a stranger may look back at you, a stranger who knows the darker side of you well, the side that is just waiting to come out and do who knows what under the right circumstances.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.