Duma Key by Stephen King

My edition of Duma Key. Love the cover, by the way.

Author: Stephen King
First appeared in: 2008
Genres: drama, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror, psychological
More about it on Wikipedia (spoilers included).

No kinky stuff, no gore; maybe a bit of morbidity, but it's not something that'd be worth a special mention.
Review: this review contains minor spoilers concerning some crucial events (only touched upon). Each section gets 2 points (2 x 5 = 10).

After an accident that almost ended his life and left him disabled, Edgar Freemantle is forced to quit his job in a construction company. Because of head injuries, he becomes a threat to his wife, whom he almost kills during a fit of rage. She files for divorce and the two separate.
Upon recommendation from his psychologist, Edgar rents a house on Duma Key, a small (fictional) island off the West Coast of Florida. There, he resumes an old hobby of his, sketching; he proves to be very talented at this and soon begins painting, the quality of his pictures increasing at an almost alarming rate. Edgar also starts experiencing premonitions which manifest themselves through his paintings. At first they're relatively harmless, but get more and more personal (and menacing) with each picture painted.
During one of his long beach walks meant for recuperating, Edgar meets Jerome Wireman, the landlady's caretaker. After consolidating their trust in one another, Edgar reveals his worries and, to his bewilderment, finds out that Wireman isn't exactly surprised by what he hears. Together, the two try to solve the mystery surrounding Elizabeth Eastlake, Duma Key and, most importantly, Perse.

My rating for this section: 0.9 points (detailed in the Originality section)

Originality And Credibility
I'm going to say it flat out: it ain't credible, not in the least. And if you boil everything down to the facts, it all seems pretty silly, almost like a cheap B-grade horror flick from the '80s. If we picture the beginning of the main story (Edgar's arrival to Duma Key) as point A and the ending as point B, we can trace the main outline without straying too much from what King did. Our (mostly) linear journey from A to B is occasionally interrupted by certain mini-villains that the main villain, Perse, plants in Edgar and Wireman's way. These, needless to say, are neither scary nor impressive, save for one of them who is creepy. And who happens to be a garden gnome. Yeah.
(Now don't get me wrong, King can make a spoon scary if he wants to! Why didn't he do it with the rest of the villains, I wonder?)

We have the classic scenario: man goes through an accident and those around him become distant towards him, followed by his immersion in some sort of activity to aid in the recovery process. Throw in some supernatural elements and we've got a King story. What set King's stories apart from the other thousands of cheap thrills are the characters and their development, which I'll elaborate on in the next section.

My rating for this section: 0.6 points

Character Development
As usual, the characters are normal, everyday people (at least on the surface). I applaud King for straying from one of his usual stereotypes: the moping writer. I can't count how many of his works feature writers, and that becomes annoying quickly. Unfortunately, this time we have a moping construction worker.

My favorite character isn't Edgar; nope, it's Wireman. Even though he's kind of stereotypical because he always throws phrases in Spanish randomly, I liked him because he's relatable. He's sarcastic, witty, funny and brave (in an "I'm brave because the others are more scared than I am" way). What's more, his backstory was touching and I feel some can relate to what he has been through. I won't give the ending away, but his ending gave me the same feeling as when I watched The Green Mile (a movie based on another novel by King, highly recommended!): bittersweet and somewhat...empty. It felt kind of "degrading" (though it's a strong word) for him to exit the story like that.

My least favorite character has to be Ilse Freemantle, Edgar's youngest daughter. She goes to college, is 19 years old and absolutely bland. I for one could have done without her Daddy-this and Daddy-that attitude which, if she weren't his daughter, I would've interpreted as serious sucking up. I understand she loves her father, but all the mushy love stuff made be nauseous and I almost stopped reading because of her. I didn't expect what King had in store for her, though, but I'm very pleased with it and I expect many others are, too.

As for the antagonist, Perse, she's pretty weak. One of the weakest King villains I've ever read about, anyway. She doesn't do many impressive things, though this is arguable if you haven't read other King works; I've been spoiled by reading his better works and that's why I expected more. I dislike villains that are mostly talk and little-to-no action. Perse felt useless and not the despicable monster I was expecting from all the build-up. A villain is supposed to send shivers down your spine (God knows, IT's Pennywise did that to me); this one was pathetic.

I wouldn't say the development is unpredictable, on the contrary. You just need to read the synopsis and a few pages (so you can get a general opinion on each character), and I'm sure you'll know where each of them is heading, personality-wise. For me, it wasn't a huge surprise to see Wireman overwhelmed by what Edgar drags him into, and even scared at times (even though he tries to hide it with sarcasm). Same goes for Edgar. The only relatively mysterious character is Elizabeth Eastlake, the owner of Duma Key and the house Edgar rents.

This being said, I didn't truly care for anyone except Wireman, and maybe Elizabeth Eastlake, a bit. The others just didn't appeal to me, but it doesn't mean they won't do that for you. I can see this novel's characters are either lovable or gut-wrenchingly bad; it's all in where you stand.

My rating for this section: 0.9 points (mostly for Wireman and Elizabeth)

Coherence and Writing Style
The style is simple and to the point. I've always found King novels easy to read, and that's because his language is informal and accessible to everyone. He doesn't hesitate to use slang or swear words to flesh out his characters, even though he sometimes uses it excessively. It may become uncomfortable to read when he dwells on it, not from the nature of the words but from the high number of times they are used. Edgar swears a lot, particularly when his head injuries impediment his speech and he is overcome by the "red" (rage).

One of King's trademark techniques is how he creates suspense. In Duma, there are several spots where we encounter this, such as Edgar's painting frenzy or a certain incident concerning Wireman, which is too spoiler-ridden to detail here. He does this using mostly short sentences or phrases, at times using only key words to highlight what's happening (such as THUMP THUMP THUMP to describe a character's heavy footsteps during a tense moment).

What bothered me were the many references to the "phantom limb" sensation Edgar experiences while he paints. OK, I got it the first...what... seven times? I understand that repetition creates the sensation of authenticity, but it isn't necessary to repeat oneself so much. At one point I had gotten so annoyed with it that I unconsciously rolled my eyes everytime I read another description about Edgar's missing arm and how he felt about it.

Of course, King loves "crossing over" to other works of his, so the more you read, the more familiar you feel with what you've read before by him. All in all, it's like the old cartoons of the '90s: they all had subtle adult themes and references in them but were safe for kids because they were too complicated for the little ones to understand. Same here: it's not absolutely vital to know what's written in his other works; those are just nice elements of backstory to flesh out the characters/situations more, if you will, and don't detract from the reading.

Overall, coherence isn't a problem. I for one understood everything from the first read and I'd say all the loose ends are tied in the end, even though there's a certain ambiguity left concerning the fate of the antagonist.

My rating for this section: 1 point

Personal Opinion And Recommendations
Being a long-time King fan, I was expecting a lot of psychological tension and analysis that made up all his great books from the '80s (Misery, IT, The Shining etc.). I was disappointed with Duma Key: too much useless repetition, too many characters that didn't evolve and that I didn't care about, and too much emphasis on Edgar. He's the main character, but I got tired of his antics at about a quarter into the book. I wanted to see more of that King magic I keep expecting with every book of his that I buy.

If you're a King fan and are familiar with other works of his, don't read this expecting to find some iconic treasure. If anything, it can be considered a filler for him, a book-between-books. The characters aren't memorable (neither the protagonists, nor the antagonists), the action is below average and I wasn't too impressed with the ending either. Overall, I'd suggest avoiding it if you're a die-hard fan (or at least read it for free), but feel free to give it a shot if you're new to King and don't know his style. However, the best informal advice I can give is: skip it, go buy IT or The Stand instead.

My rating for this section: 0.8 points

TOTAL: 4.2 out of 10 (even I am amazed at how low this sunk)
SPECIAL NOTE: if I had to look at it from the point of view of a person who's not familiar with Stephen King's writing, I'd probably give 0.4 points more for each section, which would mean a total of 6.2 out of 10.

Next Stephen King book I'm planning to read is Under The Dome; let's all hope it doesn't suck as much.