Miscellanea, Reviews

Not a very nice guy: The Dark Half by Stephen King

From Goodreads: Thad Beaumont is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has developed a lucrative thriller-writing alter ego named George Stark. When he stops being fun Beaumont wants to kill him. But George Stark does not want to die.

SKDH

Chances are, when talking to most Stephen King fans, The Dark Half doesn’t come up. It’s not considered one of his best (Pet Semetary, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, IT) and it’s not considered one of his worst (Rose Madder, The Tommyknockers, Cell). If you were to ask me (and I’m sure you’ve been dying to), this is a situation that must be rectified.

The Dark Half, aside from the truly excellent Bag of Bones, is likely one of Mr. King’s most underrated novels. Given what had just happened with his own pseudonym, The Dark Half is likely inspired by the novelist’s own experience. (I’m too lazy to check, this statement (I imagine) truly compels you to keep reading my blog. Sorry.)

Thad Beaumont, literary writer, has found little commercial success and much difficulty. When he decides to write as George Stark, things change. However, due to the unhealthy nature of George Stark’s writing process (and a rather creepy fan threatening to “out” his true identity), Thad and his wife decide to end his career. Only George doesn’t like that idea. Not even a little. The dark half of Thad decides to take matters into his own hands with very bloody results.

This is not a “starter” Stephen King novel. If you have never read anything by him before, this is not the one to pick up. It is worth reading second (or third or fourth, etc.), after you’ve had a chance to absorb and appreciate an introduction to one of America’s great contemporary writers. The novel, while having elements of horror and the supernatural, is more of a psychological thriller. I don’t believe anyone is wholly good or wholly bad, we all have lightness and darkness within. Only for Thad Beaumont, the dark half doesn’t want to be overshadowed or forgotten. I don’t know that Thad ever wins the battle; although the ending is benign enough (Bag of Bones gives an update on Thad Beaumont’s current situation).

The Dark Half immediately starts strong and stays that way for about 90% of the novel. I feel this is typical of a Stephen King novel and I don’t actually fault him for his occasional less than stellar ending. Specifically, if you’re looking at a novel as epic in scope as  IT or The Stand, how do you end something like that? The answer, generally, is you can’t. The buildup in IT is so strong, that no matter how the book ended, it couldn’t exceed the greatness of the first 90%. The Dark Half suffers from much of the same fate. It ends and the reader is left saying “um, okay…sparrows?”. Or at least I am. Regardless, I just added The Dark Half movie (circa 1993) to my Netflix queue. What was I doing in 1993 that caused me to miss this cinematic gem? Probably watching Thundercats or TMNT reruns…

What’s better than a semi-fictitious creature that starts out as an undeveloped embryo embedded in the brain, ends up a vicious killer, but only desires to be a pulp fiction writer? The answer: not much.

salted-caramel brownies

In mock domesticity, Liz serves Thad brownies (this is the way of things at my house too, domestic is not a word anyone would use to describe me). Here is the recipe for the best salted caramel brownies you’ll ever have found on A Cup of Jo (with her thanks to A Subtle Revelry). Phenomenal. If food is your thing, check out her entire Basic Food Series. You might gain ten pounds, but you’ll be well fed and feel satisfyingly guilty.

Photos: Goodreads, A Cup of Jo.

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  • http://letseatbooks.blogspot.com Brie @ Eat Books

    I’ve only read two of King’s books in the past – The Eyes of the Dragon (love) and Lisey’s Story (did not love). I’ve never picked up anything else by him because how do you choose?! The Dark Half sounds interesting – but which of King’s books do you usually recommend to someone?

    • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

      My favorite and most recommended is Bag of Bones. If you have the time The Stand and 11/22/63 are also very good. I recommend Pet Semetary, but warn people that it is dark, sad, and disturbing. The Dead Zone is a good one. My two least favorites are The Tommyknockers and Gerald’s Game.

      • http://letseatbooks.blogspot.com Brie @ Eat Books

        Thanks! 11/22/63 did appeal to me, but I’m often overwhelmed by the shear size of some books.

        • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

          It is definitely worth it. I would say don’t be daunted by its size, but it is a commitment to get through (and absolutely worth it). Bag of Bones is mid-length, as is The Dark Half. His short stories are also excellent as well. He is one of the few writers that seems to excel in all forms. I don’t sound like a fan at all…:)

  • http://picturemereading.wordpress.com picturemereading

    It sounds very Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde!

    • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes! It’s like a light bulb clicking on…

  • http://joriesreads.wordpress.com Jorie

    I like the idea of your Stephen King challenge. I’ve only read a few of his books but I know he’s really good.

    Also, I nominated “fourth street review” for the Super Sweet Blog Award: http://joriesreads.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/super-sweet-blog-award/

    • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

      He is and thank you!

  • http://americasstudies.com Donna Alexander

    Interesting review! I haven’t read the novel, but have seen the film. I definitely intend to read this some time. It’s interesting that Stephen King doesn’t really deliver on endings sometimes. the conclusions to “Under the Dome” and “11/22/63″ just didn’t do it for me. However, I absolutely loved them both until the end

    • http://taftandco.wordpress.com Rory O’Connor

      Sometimes I feel like SK has to add just *one more thing* that puts it over the top. In Under the Dome, leatherheads, really? Or in The Dark Half, the sparrows. Overall, definitely worth reading. I’m kind of excited to see the movie!

  • http://christinarosendahl.wordpress.com christinasr

    I read The Dark Half several years ago and I remember really loving it. I always love when he writes about writers (although I haven’t read Misery yet, shame on me) and I thought this one was really scary too. I can’t remember the sparrows but I don’t think they annoyed me all that much – definitely not as much as the Leatherheads. Come on!

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