I just finished reading “Full Dark No Stars” last week. This is the latest collection of short short stories by Stephen King. First of all, I think it is the best of any of his post “Dark Tower” material that I have read. Some of what he has put out in the past 4 years or so has been less than desirable. But this work shows that he still does have it, and there is something left in him after all. I also love the the themes that were brought up in this book, which is what is prompting me to write this blog. He visits the themes of revenge, envy and retribution, and does so in a thoughtful and interesting way.
SPOILER ALERT (ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ THIS YET, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SHOOT ME AS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED):
The story that most caught my attention was “Fair Extension.” It may even be my favorite, although I’m not sure I can make a judgement at this point, as I really can say I loved them all. To summarize, the story centers around a middle-aged man named David Streeter. David has been diagnosed with an agressive form of cancer, and has only been given so long to live. This also takes place in Derry, Maine, which should be familiar to any long time King reader (“It”, “Insomnia, amongst others). Of course, David and his family (he has a wife and two children) are in shock. The parents cannot even bring themselves to tell their children, which is understandable. One day, on his way home from work, David notices a stand and makes a stop. He talkes to a man named “Elvid”. It doesn’t take much to rearrange the letters on that, and one can already begin to see what the intentions of this stranger may be. Of course, David makes an arrangement with this stranger: his cancer can be cured, and his luck will turn around. Of course there is a catch, but not what one may expect: David must forward a percentage of his income to a bank account in the Cayman Islands, and must “transfer” his bad luck on to another. David is basically a good man, and he does not seem to have any enemies. However, he has been life-long friends with a man named Tom, and makes his decison quickly. David feels that Tom has been unfairly lucky, and has a lengthy discussion with the stranger. He describes how Tom stole his first love, and how that still hurts, even though David is happily married. Tom has been financially successful, without putting forth much effort (as with most of his accomplishments). Tom has also used David for his own gains, such as cheating from David’s tests in school. It doesn’t take long for David to make his decison (with “sympathy” from the stranger), and his luck is transferred to Tom. As the story progressives, David’s cancer is cured (much to his shock and surprise). Also, he is promoted at work and his children become extremely successful in their own right. In the meantime, Tom suffers in a horrific manner: his wife passes away from cancer, his children suffer from horrible fates, his business failes miserably, and he begs David to bail him out (which David readily does). David continues to forward a percentage of his income to the mysterious bank account, and watches his best friend’s life fall apart. On the outside, he is the sympathetic friend. However, on the inside, he is gleeful, and enjoys every misfortune to befall his friend.
The story ends with David and his wife discussing their wonderful luck, and David looks up at the sky, and “wishes for more.” This ending is what caught my attention when reading this story: what is David wishing for more of? More money? More success for his children? One can make that argument easily. However, I do not agree with that argument. I think he was wishing for more misfortune on his friend.
Stephen King has written about an emotion that some would consider “base”: Jealousy. This is something everyone feels. I also think that almost everyone is envied at some point in their life, which can also be difficult to experience. King’s character David has been carried away by this emotion, even before he meets “Elvid”, the helpful stranger. The stranger is merely capitalizing on what is already burning in David’s heart. Throughout the story, the reader can clearly see the joy that David experiences when his friend experiences misfortune. I also believe that David experiences more joy from his friend’s misfortune than he does from miraculously being “cured” of a fatal disease.
In writing this story, I believe that King was emphasizing the fact that jealousy is a very strong emotion. “Envy” is even counted amongst the seven deadly sins in the Bible. Yet, jealousy is portrayed differently in the media. The jealous person is seen as a psychotic, in many movies, and the hero or heroine is responsible for vanquishing the jealous one. In this story, the jealous person is the protagonist and a sympathetic character. In fact, the one who is being envied is not exactly a likeable character, even though he is mainly seen through the eyes of his worst enemy. David is actually a likeable character, and is sympathetic. The reader can feel sympathy, especially in the beginning when he is suffering from a fatal disease. When David actually begins to win in life (his f ortune changes), one can actually feel happy for him. It is harder to feel sympathy for his friend, when through his friend’s eyes, he does not appear to be a likeable person. When we learn that Tom has come by many of his fortunes in life through David and just appears to have a sense of entitlement, the reader even begins to wish misfortune on him too.
This story was an interesting twist on jealousy and envy. This is not a view that is normally expressed, and brings up much discussion on what it is like to be jealous of someone else, and also what it is like to have someone else be jealous of you. This story also explores, along with jealousy, the true nature of friendship. These themes are ones that are ever present, and always invoke debate.