2.08.2008

Duma Key



Duma Key is a very fine novel. Like most of King's work, the scale of this story is pretty grand and it checks in at just over 600 pages. I read it in just a few days, and I knew I wouldn't get to my own writing until I slew the sucker, so I had a late night Monday (12:45 is late--I know, I'm getting crusty).

Duma Key is, at its heart, a story about hope and redemption. Edgar Freemantle, our protagonist and POV, is drawn exceedingly well. We come to thoroughly enjoy his company, and we root for him as he deals with a catastophic injury that results in the amputation of his right arm. As he begins to heal, he experiences phantom limb pain and the missing arm becomes a sort of divining rod for the creative bursts that a) help him find purpose and distraction in his recovery b) expose a dormant talent that brings joy to many who view his work and c) reveal the mystery that surrounds the deserted island he inhabits in the Gulf of Mexico.

King likes to use pictures as portals. He does it in It, Sundog and Rose Madder to excellent effect. And he gets that element pitch-perfect here as well, particularly in a scene revealing an affair between his ex-wife and his accountant. Some very fine imagery in these passages.

Characterization is a strength here. Wireman is sort of an Alan Pangborn on Jimmy Buffett time, and he's a great complementary character. Jack is perfect as the "aw-shucks" sidekick and I love Doctor Kaman. I even come to develop a little bit of sympathy for Pam, the "quitting birch" that divorces Edgar after his accident. One of my criticisms, though, is that after we lose the character of Elizabeth Eastlake, that's it for her. She's very much an integral part of the story, but there's nothing about Wireman and Edgar paying their respects to her. I half-expected her, in her childhood form, to appear as an apparition in the climax as Edgar, Jack and Wireman do battle with Perse. But she strokes out and we don't hear from her again.

It's a small criticism, but I thought she was given short-shrift a bit in the third act. I will also say that, while the climax works in building suspense, the timeline is too improbable for my liking. It takes them all damned day to go a few miles and stage the final show-down. Still, the last few pages are very satisfying as Edgar comes to term with his losses, and the dragging timeline is a small price to pay to see our heroes through.

The novel sings in the first two acts. King's prose voice here is beautiful. His use of simile and metaphor is razor sharp, with many eloquent comparisons. The setting is richly depicted and I think he captures the serenity and magnetism of the Gulf perfectly. I think he does for the landscape what Dorsey and Hiaasen and Barry do for the culture of Florida, and that's bring it to life with truth and authenticity.

The pacing and organization work well, as King employs a vignette structure to the storytelling. I like that King plays with writing mediums as well. His stories are fun to read (though I'm sure not to typeset) because of the varied scripts and fonts he uses to create realism. Here, he shows a series of e-mail exchanges, and it's a nice take on the epistolary form.

And finally, I'll also applaud the piece for the voice. King's a better writer in the first-person perspective, and that's high praise, as I feel it's a far riskier and more difficult prospect than working in the third person. Does Pam come off a bit more harshly in this one than Edgar? Yeah, she does. Do I think she was mis-characterized? Nope. I think poor Edgar got hosed on that deal, muchacho.

Overall grade is an 'A' and I can't wait to hear what's next from the man...

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