This is one of the few books of his that I had not read until recently. I’m not a completist but at the time, there were other books that I wanted to read more so now that Duma Key came to my attention, it was interesting to go into this without prior knowledge of it.
It has the best and worst of King’s work within it, but on balance it has far more merit than that phrase would suggest. It suffers from bloat in the second act, but with King, I find that a pleasure. We are, in reading, communing with the author’s intentions, and I’ve read enough of his work to trust him. As I’ve said before, even his bad stuff is interesting.
What Duma Key is, is a place where a man goes to heal from injuries both physical and emotional and what he and it becomes is a perfect blend of tragedy, magical realism and in the end, the kind of horror that tends to be the wheelhouse of Lovecraft, the sense that around us and beneath live horrors that exist only to feed and fuck with us in equal measure. It also talks eloquently about the cost of recovery from physical injury, it manages a fantastic trick of showing the death of a marriage, the love of a father and daughters as well as an informed and amused look at how modern art is celebrated and sold.
When the book goes into the horror, it does so without sparing your feelings and even the most causal connection is exploited for maximum effect. It’s a lengthy book but the bloat appears intentional in retrospect as King tears down the pleasant life that he weaves for the protagonist, he shows that the secrets have teeth and he does something in the third act that made me deeply, primally uncomfortable. When a writer does something that simultaneously makes you quall at the unfairness of it but also makes you understand that this is how you show the forces of antagonism are not playing, that’s good work being done right there.
It is a little glib in places, but it does not matter. Even Hendrix played bum notes ( with that much LSD in him, are we ever surprised?) but when Duma Key is on point, it’s like nothing else. King has an enthusiasm and a work ethic that more writers could benefit from appropriating, he wades into the complex and the ambiguous to find the good and the simple truths of the world. He’s never been just a horror writer, he’s a writer and he embodies a great deal of the blue collar clarity that I’ve always been drawn to in american literature. Through him, I have learned as both reader and writer, and that does not blind me to his flaws. It doesn’t blind him either, which adds to my respect for him. He does not claim writing as an exclusive member’s club, where you have to go to the right school or have the right surname. It is one word in front of another, and it’s been my watchword for a while now.
You may not like Duma Key, it’s not the easiest of reads but be patient with it and much like Edgar Freemantle, it reveals treasures and terrors that will haunt you long after you finish the last page.