Book Review: “Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King

Good things, when short, are twice as good. ~Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Sometimes when I’m perusing the books at Costco, I see the hardback copy of Stephen King’s mammoth novel Under The Dome and I think to myself, “Maybe… maybe…”  And then I pick it up.

I’m sorry, 1000+ pages is just too many and unfortunately reminds me of the giant tomes from the 1980s (The Tommyknockers, IT, and their ilk) that turned me off to King for at least a decade.  Recently though, when I was considering what was going to be my next audiobook, I opted for his most recent novella collection Full Dark, No Stars and am glad that I did.

Full Dark, No Stars

After listening to these stories – each one of them gripping and creepy– I want to ask King why he doesn’t explore the novella form more often, because clearly he’s great at it (think of The Body, Shawshank Redemption, Secret Window Secret Garden, Apt Pupil).

The four stories in this collection focus on revenge and retribution and represent a very human (rather than supernatural) exploration of the impulses and consequences around these driving forces.  I won’t give away any spoilers or go into the details other than that each story had its gut-dropping moments – some that you can see coming and others that come as an (un)pleasant surprise.

Highly recommended 4 stars out of 5

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19 thoughts on “Book Review: “Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King

  1. I keep wanting to read them and then I just don’t know if I am in the mood to be creeped out right now! I’ll wait until I am. Then it will be just right!

    I loved The Stand and Dead Zone and Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis and Dreamcatcher.

    I never really read It, or Tommyknockers. I did NOT like Cujo or Pet Sematary.

    I read Under the Dome. I enjoyed it, but, as SK tends to do, it just goes on and on and on. It could have ended at any of 60 points before it actually did.

    • This is a very tough set of stories that put normal people — actually very mild-mannered people — in very tough situations. Not very light-hearted, but very well executed.

  2. Nice quote by Gracian. I think a few authors were born to write long stories, King is not one of them. I never read anything more recent than Firecatcher – was Dreamcatcher a book? I just remember the movie – creepy as hell.

      • Dreamstarter…. Firecatcher…. what’s the diff? I really didn’t like his books from the 1980s (of course he was going through a lot of booze and drugs at the time) — but his more recent works have been much better.

  3. For my money, the short form is where King really shines. I’ve read and enjoyed most of his short story & novella collections; I’ve read quite a bit of his long form work as well but they do tend to drag on.
    I can still remember the night I first read “The Mist” and how for weeks after my skin would crawl with the thought of going out into the foggy unknown.

  4. I’ve always had trouble wading through King’s prose: even his classics, like “The Shining,” had moments where they were less scary and more ridiculous. I’ve also wondered if somewhere deep inside, the man didn’t have a heart of bile and acid. A number of his male characters seem bursting with rage, and I’m not just thinking of Jack Nicholson’s “Heeere’s Johnny!”

    Then again, his novella “The Body,” which in time became the movie “Stand By Me,” almost redeemed every fault of his major novels. He’s marvelous at capturing childhood and life in small towns.

    I usually pass the book piles at Costco with my nose in the air (“Ugh, popular fiction!”), but if I see this book, I will pick it up and give it a read. Thanks, Steve.

    • King definitely has some tendencies that turn me off — dialog is one and the other is the trick of naming the Weird Thing with capital letters. Maybe in his short stories, he doesn’t have enough leeway to get too far down those rabbit holes.

  5. I’m not a King fan–possibly due to what you and other readers are saying about him. That didn’t stop me from reading Christine, The Stand, The Shining, Pet Cemetary and It (probably more and recently the first of the Dark Tower series). I’ve probably read something else, too…All but that last one were read when I was a teenager and they scared the crap out of me, which I don’t like but everybody else was reading them.

    • MT — King certainly has a way of getting under your skin. In his afterword, he says that he thinks of literary fiction as extraordinary people in normal situations and that his writing is normal people in extraordinary situations — in a lot of ways, it’s easy just to slot yourself in there.

  6. I loved FULL DARK, NO STARS and I think it’s probably some of King’s best work of the last decade. He’s just so good when it comes to novellas. I’m a bigger fan of his work than some, I guess, but I think he really hit the nail on the head with these stories. 1922 was genuinely creepy. I didn’t like Big Driver as much and you could tell he changed the ending, but I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it. Fair Extension was a great twist on the “deal with the devil” story you’re used to reading. And “A Good Marriage” may not have been an entirely new take on that type of story, but it was SO well written and developed.

    • TWR — thanks for the comment. I agree about the novellas — there’s a real sweet-spot for depth and creepiness that you might lose in a short story and might overplay in a long one.

      I really liked “A Good Marriage” in the way that the story was parceled out and I thought the ending of “Fair Extension” was very well done.

  7. I wouldn’t race off and buy Under the Dome. It did go on and there were so many characters in it that I couldn’t keep track of them all. I don’t think I even finished it, or if I did I didn’t really care what happened to any of them.

    • Some readers have told me they found Under the Dome to be super compelling and it read like a “shorter books” but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason, even though I really wanted to… It’s the first King book I didn’t finish in a very long time…

  8. Like another reviewer, I was going to buy this book until I realized it was just a compilation of short stories I already own. I went through the book a few times in the store thinking there must surely be pages of SK essays I am missing, but no. The only “new” material are very short intros to each story and one page with a list of SK’s top-ten movie adaptations. The scariest thing about this book? Buyer beware!!!

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