Once upon a time, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I read ‘em as fast as he could write ‘em. And then he wrote Pet Sematary, and I read it, and something snapped inside of me. King’s skill with descriptions had gotten too good, in a way. Some of the stuff I was reading…it just didn’t feel healthy to me. I didn’t need to be filling my head with that kind of potent and disturbing imagery.
So I quit reading King, or at least, reading his horror stuff.
Then last Thanksgiving my brother gave me a copy of Duma Key, which he’d enjoyed. I felt obligated to give it a try, and early on there’s a scene that almost caused me to set it aside, but I pushed on, and I’m glad I did.
Duma Key isn’t horrific. It’s creepy and sometimes unsettling, but never horrific (I mean that as praise). It never gets truly scary — or maybe that’s because I was so braced for something worse — but it gets nice and weird a lot.
And it’s a pretty good story as long as you just fly through it and don’t stop to think very hard about the characters and their reactions to events going on, because sometimes they make odd choices that don’t ring true.
Vague example, trying to avoid spoilers: You and some friends need to accomplish a certain task before a specific time. If you don’t finish in time, the group is going to wind up in very dire circumstances. These are people who trust you. Do you a) quickly accomplish your goals, informing your friends of what needs to be done and assuring them that you’ll explain the details later, or b) Ramble on and on explaining all the reasons why you have to do what you have to do, as the deadline draws nearer and nearer and your friends urge you to shut the hell up and get moving?
Most people, I think, would choose A but our protagonist chooses B. While you’re reading it, you’re flipping pages like mad because you want to find out what happens. But afterward you stop and think, “What the heck? Why’d he waste all that time talking??”
On the other hand, certain cliched behaviors that you expect to see never emerge. When weird things start happening to the protagonist, we expect him to keep what’s going on a secret. But in fact he doesn’t; he shares the burden with friends. That sounds simple but to me it was unexpected and welcome.
I don’t know if die-hard King fans will like Duma Key; I haven’t followed him recently and don’t know if this is a departure from his other recent books. But I liked it well enough. It was a good yarn, the characters were genuinely likable (at least, when we were supposed to like them) and had great (one could argue, a little too great) chemistry together. Duma Key itself was realized well enough to be a character in and of itself.
I can’t imagine that I’ll be thinking about this book a week from now, but it was a good ride while it lasted.