Think Stevenson meets Shelley. Dr. Jekyll and Dr, Frankenstein fuse into one being and create an amalgam of the creature and Mr. Hyde (Oho – The Creature and Mr. Hyde – a most promising title. A story may need to be written from this title). Add in a writer and two Maine towns and presto-majesto – you have The Dark Half. But it is almost alchemical, for it is not just throwing together two nineteenth century horror writers to make a story. There is also some third part that makes this novel decidedly King-esque. Ah, yes, the two Maine towns in which this story takes place. The Dark Half, in truth, has more in common with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jeckyll and Hyde story than it does with Frankenstein, but the thought of creating a being and then casting him off with a sense of disgust definitely has traces of Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was far more active in the creation and rejection of his being with the protagonist in this story.
Mr. Thaddeus Beaumont, English professor and writer of profound, unsuccessful novels, has a pseudonym under which he writes thrillers. Pretty nasty hack-’em-up thrillers at that. Thaddeus (hereafter called Thad) is contacted by a man who has figured out the big secret of his pseudonym and tries to blackmail him to keep the matter quiet. The plan backfires and Thad decides to go public about it. A story appears in People magazine, which includes a mock up of a gravestone for Mr. George Stark. Thad tells us that he had been considering jettisoning the pseudonym for some time because he didn’t like (or at least his wife didn’t like) who he became when he was writing Stark’s books. (JPaging Dr. Frankenstein).
Not long after the People story is published, murders begin. Thad’s pseudonym has come to life in all his not-a-nice-guy-ness’. We know in advance, of course, that Thad had bits of an undeveloped twin pulled from his head when he was a young kid. He did not know this until years later. Stark was not just a pseudonym after all. Stark was almost a person, and could only be carried away by sparrows in the end. And we are left with an open question: know that Thad knows about this other self, will he be the same again?
Even before consulting Wikipedia, a thought percolated in this girl’s brain – was The Dark Half written based on King’s experiences of being outed as Richard Bachman? Though wikipedia is a site with trust issues (how much of the info contained therein has been messed with for the hell of it?) the blurb talking about why the book was written rings true. The kernel of the idea for Dark Half came from King’s experience, the rest of the story coming from those dark corridors of his mind. I R SMRT, RN’T I?
After surviving The Stand, It, and The Tommyknockers, The Dark Half felt like a novella. Several characters lent their points of view: Tad, Liz, Alan Pangborn, George Stark, even the groundsman and the doctor, but that’s it. Half a dozen people spoke here, not a dozen and a half with fifty page back stories to boot. Don’t get me wrong. Stories like The Stand and It are obviously much broader in scope than The Dark Half, and lend themselves fairly well to reading about more than just our main characters. On the other hand, these are the stories that are most susceptible to bloat, and it is not uncommon to read about them and think: do I REALLY need to know seventy years of Derry history? The Dark Half is mercifully missing town histories and excessive number of characters. it is a straight to the point story, and is much better for it. King seems to write his best when he sticks to narrow scope. This has everything to do with emotional concentration. Watering down something dilutes it, as adding too many characters and subplots to a story can dilute emotional impact.
It is not that I dislike long stories in general, but perhaps my limited amount of time to read has something to do with the preference for shorter stories, and the previous comment about emotions is just me talking out of my ass. After all, It remains the only book I had to slam shut because I was freaked out. Anything is possible. I’ve found though, that the best of King’s books have been the ones that don’t delve too far into too many characters: The Shining, Misery, and The Dark Half. I am only half-way through Mr. King’s catalogue, though. Perhaps I am not yet into the Dark Half of his works.
(Go ahead and groan, it is allowed).