New King novel worth a read

By Stephen King (Scribner)2.5 StarsStephen King has long been considered the master of American horror fiction. The prolific writer of “The Shining” and “Carrie,” as well as 30-odd additional novels and numerous short stories, King sells books like Tom Hanks sells movie tickets. However, some cultural critics have accused him of possessing a mediocre literary talent. Harold Bloom, Yale professor and lit snob, went so far as to denounce King’s 2003 National Book Award in the Boston Globe as “another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life.” To be fair, Bloom tends to rant against all pop-literature. But the man does have a point. In his latest effort, “Duma Key,” King’s writing is not always the most pristine – particularly when it descends into the murky world of the super?natural. Despite its faults, however, there are certainly a few truly spooky moments and beautiful passages. All in all, “Duma Key” is an absorbing, if overly long, read. Edgar Freemantle is a wealthy contractor, whose near-fatal accident leaves him mentally and physically shattered. He moves to isolated Duma Key, Florida, to rebuild his life. King’s most poignant moments come when Freemantle describes the rage he feels coming up against his physical limitations, particularly his difficulty with language. Instead of “Bring over the chair and sit down,” a bedridden, befuddled Edgar helplessly yells at his wife to, “Bring over the chum and sick down!” While on Duma Key, Edgar discovers artistic talents he’d never known. Sprinkled with interludes on “How to Draw a Picture,” art – its power and its mystery – is a central theme. Ironically enough, a nefarious magical force corrupts Edgar’s works of art. The novel itself is weakest when it deals explicitly with the gradually revealed source of evil. Fortunately, the climax, a somewhat frightening but muddled, drawn-out affair, does not come until about 400 pages in. Until then, it is a pleasant novel about a man’s reconstruction after devastation, sprinkled with just enough mysterious mention of his elderly neighbor’s past and eerie events to keep the reader intrigued. An additional quibble: at 607 pages, “Duma Key” does not need to be as long as it is. Otherwise tolerable devices, such as Edgar’s intense hunger each time he encounters the supernatural, become repetitive. Besides, elaborations on Edgar’s every walk up and down the beach are simply unnecessary. The fact that “Duma Key” is a fairly fast read despite its massive size is a testimony to King’s absorbing storytelling and to the pleasure of reading something fun and unchallenging. Despite its flaws, “Duma Key” is a thriller that a student can enjoy when he or she wants a break from assigned reading.