Art is life.
Life is art.
Art imitates life.
Life imitates art.
Anyone who knows me knows that art is extremely important to me. It is one of my favorite forms of expression. I am always drawing, painting, woodburning, glass etching…
So I guess I am a little obsessed…this guy might understand something about that…
But art has kept me. Kept me from losing my mind when my ex had legal troubles of the worst kind, and that was all he would talk about, day in and day out. Kept me from feeling completely worthless after I finally left my ex (yes, the same one), and going out of my mind with loneliness. Recently, I had to euthanize my poor 15 year old dog Igloo, who had been my best friend for about the same length of time. This was one of the most agonizing decisions that I had to make, and I questioned it constantly, never sure that I was doing the right thing, even though I saw the gratitude in her eyes at the very end. The next night, I finished a woodburning piece with the phrase “Stand and be true” included on it. The irony was not lost on me, reminding me once again that coincidence had been cancelled. The tears came, but it was cathartic and I needed it. Once again, art healed me when I was at my most broken.
So, art has kept me. Kept me in the land of the living when it seemed nothing else would. And I imagine that is true for most creative people. We may appear to be escaping, but really, we do it so that we can stay engaged with “the real world.” And art, of any kind (literature, paintings, comic books, you name it), is just one of the few things that makes “the real world” just a little less cold.
And one those things that makes our world a little less could is…wait for it…
Yes, a Stephen King book!
Don’t be surprised, it is this blog, after all.
The art of Stephen King has been making my world brighter for the past 25 years, and I imagine that he has been brightening the worlds of many, many other folks as well. He is an artist, and much needed warmth in our world.
I am also sure that, like most other artists, King needs his art to stay engaged, especially after the horrific accident that nearly claimed his life. I would like to think that thoughts of writing more books and finishing his magnum opus helped to keep him engaged with “the real world”, and provided a source of healing for him when he needed it the most.
Enter the novel, Duma Key. On one hand, it is a ghost story…Perse on her ghost ship…shudder. But on the other hand, Duma Key is about art, and the healing qualities that art can have on the human spirit. Once again, King has taken the ghost story, and elevated it so that it is no longer a ghost story, but something far more than the tale of a haunted island. But then again, we are talking about The Master, after all!
Without further ado, here is my recap and review of Duma Key.
Oh, and don’t forget:
At the beginning of Duma Key, we are introduced to a man named Edgar Freemantle, or Eddie. Edgar is a seemingly ordinary man: he is married, owns a successful construction company and is the loving father to two children, Ilse and Melinda. However, all of that changes when Edgar is in a near fatal accident on a job site, when his truck collides with a crane. As a result of that accident, Edgar loses his right arm. He also suffers severe brain damage, and his personality undergoes a drastic change for a time. Edgar is unable to control his anger after the accident and stabs his wife Pam with a plastic butter knife, and also tries to choke her. Edgar also has trouble with language, and is unable to find the right word for common objects and even the people he loves. This contributes to his anger problems, but Edgar undergoes much therapy and slowly begins to recover. However, Edgar’s marriage never recovers from the fallout of the accident, and Pam files for divorce shortly afterwards. Edgar is devastated, but understands how Pam feels and does not contest the divorce. Edgar also begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Kamen, who gives him a doll to use as a punching bag for his rages. Edgar names the doll Reba, and becomes attached to her. Dr. Kamen suggests that Edgar consider a geographic change. Edgar agrees, and decides to temporarily re-locate to Florida from his Minnesota home, and picks a house on the island of Duma Key, located off the coast of Florida. Dr. Kamen also suggests that Edgar take up a hobby to keep his mind off of his injuries and other problems. Edgar remembers that he used to enjoy drawing, and packs his art supplies when he moves. Money is no object, as the success of Edgar’s construction company will allow him to live out the rest of his life in comfort.
We are also introduced to a small girl who seems to have suffered a similar injury to Edgar’s, but the events are indicated to have taken place many years ago.
Edgar arrives on the island of Duma Key and is introduced to Jack Cantori, a college student who will be driving Edgar to places he needs to go, and also assisting him with duties such as grocery shopping. Edgar immediately likes Jack and is glad to have his assistance. Edgar also falls in love with his rental house on first sight. The house is nicknamed “Big Pink”, and Edgar finds immediate peace in his surroundings.
Edgar continues to convalesce at Big Pink and Duma Key. He also continues to hone his drawing skills, sometimes adding in a surreal element to his work. Many people, including his psychiatrist, Dr. Kamen, tell Edgar that he has a real talent and should consider a second career in the arts. Edgar walks on the beach, which helps him with his mobility and makes him less dependent on pain killers. On the beach, he sees a middle aged man and elderly woman, and the man waves at Edgar every time he sees them. Edgar also finds out the his daughter Ilse has a new boyfriend, and is somehow able to draw a picture of the young man, even though he has never seen him. Edgar finds out that Ilse is engaged, through his clairvoyant visions.
Ilse visits Edgar shortly after Christmas, and the two take a drive on the island to the lone other house on the island. However, this drive does not go well. Ilse becomes violently ill and Edgar’s missing limb begins to madly itch. Edgar is able to drive his daughter back to the house so that she can recover. While Ilse is resting, Edgar is overcome with an urge to draw, and draws a picture of what appears to be his anger doll Reba surrounded by an ocean of tennis balls. Ilse is impressed with the drawing, so Edgar gives it to her, naming it The End of the Game. Edgar receives a call from the owner of the other house on the island, an elderly woman named Elizabeth Eastlake. Elizabeth is kind and cordial to Edgar, but warns him that Duma Key is a dangerous place for daughters, and to immediately send Ilse away from the island. Ilse also confirms that she is indeed engaged to her new boyfriend, and Edgar experiences a sense of dread, and thinks that Ilse is moving too fast in her relationship. Ilse also convinces Edgar to invest in some paints and canvases, which he does after dropping her off at the airport so that she can return to college.
After Ilse leaves, Edgar continues to hone his craft, becoming better and better at painting. He also researches limb loss and “phantom limb syndrome”, and finds out that there are others who have experienced strange happenings after the loss of a limb. Edgar asks Pam for a pair of her old gardening gloves, telling her that he wishes to include those in one of his paintings. However, he is really trying to find out if Pam is dating another man by using his clairvoyant abilities. Edgar continues his walks on the beach, and the middle aged man tells him to come join him and the elderly woman when Edgar is able.
We also learn more about the young girl who suffered a head injury years ago. The young girl has also developed the ability to produce extraordinary drawings that sometimes predict events that the little girl could have no knowledge of.
Edgar decides he wants to use Pam’s gloves to try paint his ex-wife. He almost talks himself out of the attempt, but falls down on the floor. However, when he falls, he is able to touch the floor and save himself with his missing right hand. Edgar then appears to become possessed, and produces a painting of ex-wife. The painting reveals that Pam has had a relationship with a man in California who lives in her parents’ neighborhood. Edgar also learns that Pam has had an affair with his friend and accountant, Tom Riley. Edgar is upset by this vision, but tries to forget about it and move on. He titles the painting “Friends With Benefits.”
Edgar finally makes the acquaintance of the middle-aged man that he has seen while walking on the beach. The man is named Jerome Wireman, but tells Edgar that most people call him “Wireman.” In talking with Wireman, Edgar learns more about the island and its peculiar history. Wireman tells him that his employer, Elizabeth Eastlake, owns the house Edgar is renting and a few other properties. Wireman also informs Edgar that his rental house has been occupied by several artists, the most notable name being Salvador Dali. Wireman invites Edgar to come visit him at Elizabeth’s Eastlake’s home, and Edgar agrees to take him up on the offer sometime.
When Edgar returns home, he receives news that a local art dealer wishes to look at his paintings, which makes him nervous. However, Edgar does not cancel the appointment, as he has promised his daughter that he would meet with the art dealer. Edgar also sees a vision of his friend, Tom Riley. Tom appears to be dead, and Edgar thinks that he will commit suicide. Edgar is unable to reach Tom, but is able to reach Wireman. Edgar tells Wireman that he needs to talk, and Wireman invites him for a visit the next day.
Edgar visits Wireman and tells him of all the strange happenings since he moved to the island, including his vision of Tom Riley. Wireman tells Edgar that he must talk to Pam about Tom Riley, even though the conversation may be uncomfortable and that Pam may not believe his story. Edgar also meets Elizabeth Eastlake, who immediately knows that Edgar is an artist, and shows him a sketch that Salvador Dali had given her when he stayed in the house. We also learn that Elizabeth has Alzheimer’s disease, and is not always of clear mind. Before he leaves, Edgar reads to Elizabeth from a book of poetry, as she enjoys being read to.
Per his promise to Wireman, Edgar contacts Pam in regards to Tom Riley. Pam is upset, but when the phone call ends Edgar is certain that she will act in regards to Tom.
There is a storm that night, and Edgar produces another painting that is of seashells on the beach, but also contains roses. Edgar also has a vision of Wireman, and realizes that Wireman attempted suicide in the past but was not successful.
Jack, Wireman and Edgar head to the local gallery so that an art dealer can look at Edgar’s paintings. The meeting is a success, and patrons offer to buy Edgar’s work on the spot. Edgar also catches the attention of a local art critic named Mary Ire. Jack, Wireman and Edgar go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate. On the way home from the restaurant, Wireman suffers a seizure, and Edgar becomes worried. However, Wireman brushes off Edgar’s concerns, and refuses to speak of his past. Edgar also receives another message from Elizabeth Eastlake on his answer machine that night, again warning him that the island is not a safe place for his daughter.
The days pass, and Edgar continues to work on his painting. He receives a call one day from Pam, who has confronted Tom Riley in regards to his intent to commit suicide. Pam is angry with Edgar, and does not believe that he has clairvoyant powers. Edgar tries to convince Pam otherwise, but she will not listen to him.
One afternoon, Edgar agrees to watch Elizabeth because Wireman is busy. He discovers photos and information in regards to the Eastlake family. He is also able to draw a picture that shows details of Pam’s life, such as her new television and her new cat. Edgar relays this information to Pam, but she is still angry and accuses him of spying on her.
Edgar receives a frantic call from Wireman one afternoon. Wireman has lost the vision in his left eye, and Edgar rushes him to the doctor. The doctor tries to keep Wireman in the hospital, but Wireman refuses, as he knows his condition is deteriorating. Wireman tells Edgar about the accident that caused his problems: he attempted to commit suicide after the death of his wife and daughter, but was unsuccessful, as the bullet was deflected by an apple on his kitchen table. However, the bullet lodged in his brain, causing his current problems. Edgar and Wireman also hear of a man named George “Candy” Brown on the news. Candy Brown was caught abducting a little girl on a mall video camera, and later murders the little girl. Both men are horrified by the story.
That night, Edgar returns home and tries to sleep. He is awakened in the middle of the night by the itching on his missing right arm. Edgar then paints a picture of Candy Brown and the little girl he murdered. After he is finished, Edgar returns to sleep, the itching in his missing arm gone. The next morning, Edgar receives a call from Wireman. Candy Brown passed away his sleep in his jail cell. The official cause of death is sleep apnea. Edgar again looks at his painting of Candy Brown, and notices that he painted the accused murder with no mouth or nose.
Edgar realizes that his paintings can alter reality, and that he may be able to help Wireman. He takes one of the x-rays of Wireman’s brain that shows the bullet that has been lodged in his head for so many years. He paints a picture of Wireman’s brain minus the bullet, and receives a call from Wireman that his headaches, which he had suffered from ever since his suicide attempt, have disappeared. However, Wireman still does not have full vision in his left eye.
Realizing that there is more work that needs to be done, Edgar begins to paint Wireman’s portrait. He also accepts the offer from the local art gallery, and makes plans to invite people, including Pam and his daughters, to his first show. Edgar begins a series of paintings that he titles “Girl on Ship.” He realizes that the “girl” is actually his daughter Ilse. As he paints the ships, he begins to see lettering, namely a P, E and R. Edgar wonders what the lettering spells, and is determined to find out what these letters will spell out.
One night, Edgar continues working on Wireman’s portrait. He paints in a frenzy, and has another vision after he is done painting for the night. He sees two little girls, whom he recognizes as the ghosts of Elizabeth’s deceased twin sisters. Edgar faints. When he awakens, he receives a telephone call from Wireman, who tells Edgar that his vision has been restored.
Edgar makes his opening speech to introduce his artwork. He is nervous at the beginning, but discovers that Dr. Kamen, his psychiatrist from Minnesota, is in the audience. The speech is a success, and people are demanding that he sell his paintings. Edgar catches the attention of Mary Ire, a local art critic. Edgar meets with Ms. Ire, and learns that Elizabeth Eastlake may have also been an artist as a child.
Finally, it is the night of Edgar’s show. Edgar has made sure that his close friends and family will be attending, but not staying on the island of Duma Key. Per Elizabeth Eastlake, Edgar also instructs the art gallery to sell his “Girl In a Ship” paintings to separate buyers.
Edgar’s show is a huge success. He is able to sell all of all paintings, bringing in nearly half a million dollars. Edgar’s ex-wife, daughters, psychiatrist, Wireman, Jack and even Elizabeth Eastlake attend the show. However, tragedy strikes when Elizabeth is stricken with a seizure that night. She warns Edgar of a being she calls Perse, and says that “she must be drowned in fresh water.” Elizabeth also tells Edgar that there is a red picnic basket that he must find. Elizabeth is rushed to the hospital, but passes away that night.
Wireman shows Edgar an article published in the 1930’s in regards to Elizabeth. The article confirms that Elizabeth was an artist, but gave it up when she was just a four year old child. Elizabeth also suffered a brain injury similar to Edgar’s, and her artistic ability emerged shortly after her injury.
Edgar returns to his hotel, and seeks momentary comfort in the arms of Pam. The next morning, Edgar also speaks to Ilse, who tells him that her boyfriend has cheated on her. Edgar has a heart-to-heart with Ilse, and tells her not to rush things with her boyfriend. He then sees his friends and family off, and returns to his hotel room. Edgar receives a message from Wireman telling him that something odd has happened on the island and that he must return right away.
When Edgar returns to his home, he discovers that it is in a shambles. He also discovers that Jack and Wireman have located the red picnic basket. The picnic basket contains drawings and paintings that were the work of a young Elizabeth Eastlake. Edgar realizes that he must find out her story, and that he must use his own artistic ability to do so. Wireman agrees, but says he will check on Edgar to make sure that nothing happens to him.
Edgar begins to flesh out Elizabeth’s story through a series of drawings. Her story is familiar and also tragic: the being known as Perse used Elizabeth’s gifts for her own evil purposes. When Elizabeth tried to stop her, Perse punished horribly, by murdering her sisters. Edgar, however, is still unable to come up with a way to stop Perse. When he returns to the downstairs part of his house, he sees the ship that carries Perse coming towards his house. Edgar also encounters the ghost of a young man who is intent on harming him. However, Wireman steps in just in time to save Edgar.
Jack, Wireman and Edgar convene, and Edgar relays what happened to them. Edgar realizes that the ghost he saw was the fiancee of Elizabeth’s older sister, who was also likely a victim of Perse. He also receives a call from Tom Riley. Tom tells Edgar that he is dead, and intends to take Pam with him. Edgar panics, and calls Pam. Pam confirms that Tom has committed suicide. Edgar tells her that she must warn anyone who has purchased his paintings, as Perse’s influence extends far. Later, Edgar finds out that Dr. Kamen has died from a heart attack after purchasing one of Edgar’s paintings. Pam assures Edgar that neither she nor their daughters have any of his paintings, but Edgar is still uneasy.
Edgar realizes that he must try to destroy Perse before she can do any more damage, and makes plans with Jack and Wireman to do just that, by the light of day.
Unable to sleep, Edgar awakens and remembers that he gave the drawing titled “Hello” to his daughter Ilse. He calls Ilse, who has been under the spell of Perse. Ilse believes Edgar to be dead. Edgar reassures her that he is still alive, and tells her to burn the drawing. Ilse complies, and Edgar goes back to sleep, believing his daughter to be safe.
The next morning, Edgar receives a frantic phone call from Pam. Pam tells him that Ilse is now dead. It turns out that Ilse has been murdered by Mary Ire, who later commits suicide. Mary drowned Ilse in the bathtub before killing herself. Edgar is grief-stricken, but still determined to defeat Perse.
Jack, Edgar and Wireman head to Elizabeth’s childhood home. They encounter a few tricks, including a lawn jockey that appears to come to life, but are not fooled. Underneath the stairs of the old mansion, Edgar finds Noveen, Elizabeth’s favorite childhood doll. Jack is able to use his gift of ventriloquism to have the doll speak, and the doll speaks, even though it is actually the ghost of Nan Melda, Elizabeth’s childhood Nanny. Nan Melda tells them that Edgar must paint, which he does. Edgar spends hours in a painting frenzy. The pictures reveal what happened to Elizabeth and her family, and how to defeat Perse. Perse can only be defeated by drowning the doll that contains her essence in fresh water. That doll is located in a cistern under the house.
The three men locate the pool, and Edgar locates the doll that represents Perse. After a struggle, he is able to trap her into a flashlight so that she can be contained. The three then head back to the house that Wireman shared with Elizabeth. Edgar insists on heading back to Big Pink. When he arrives, he encounters what appears to be his dead daughter, Ilse. However, this is one final trick of Perse’s, and Edgar is able to resist, and defeats the entity one last time.
Some time later, Wireman travels to Minnesota to meet up with Edgar. It is also revealed that Jack is currently attending college and has moved some miles from Duma Key. Edgar and Wireman head out to a lake in Minnesota, which happens to be quite deep. There, they drown the flashlight containing the essence of Perse, so that the creature is unable to do any further damage. Wireman tells Edgar that he is heading to Mexico, where he plans on opening a resort. He invites Edgar to join him. However, Edgar never joins Wireman, as Wireman dies of a heart two months later.
Edgar travels to Duma Key, with the intent on creating one final piece of artwork. And he paints one last picture: a picture of a storm destroying the island. After the painting is completed, the wind begins to blow.
Well, they say that the third time is the charm…
And I do believe that the nebulous group known as “they” may actually be correct, at least in regards to Duma Key.
See, this is the third read of Duma Key. And it has taken me three times to finally appreciate it and love it…
I know, bad me!
And there is much to love and appreciate, in regards to this fine book!
First of all, Wireman…
I know he is probably a little old for someone who just turned 21 for the fifth time this year, but boy, does this nerdy blogger have quite the crush on him!
I can just hear him speaking Spanish to me…swoon…
Yes, he reminds of Nero from one of my (and The Master’s) all time favorite TV shows…what can I say?
Oh, and the reference to “water brothers” and Stranger in a Strange Land…that made me want to give him a wet, sloppy kiss that Duncan the pup at arms would envy!
And speaking of great characters, let’s not forget the main one, aka Edgar Freemantle.
I love Wireman, but I think I may have found another spirit animal in Eddie.
Obviously, the art. I may work in the exciting industry of tax resolution and rock to the beat of IRS hold muzak, but I do consider myself to be an artist. I even try my hand occasionally at the works of The Master…
While I may not (thankfully) have had a traumatic brain injury, I feel a kinship with Edgar. Like me, he used his art to draw himself back into the world, in a manner of speaking. Like me, he often does not feel like he is complete, unless he is working on a piece of artwork. And art really does draw some of us back into the “real” world. Most artists, if their capacity to create more art is taken away from them, would probably wither like a flower that lacks sunshine and water. I can relate when Edgar describes his need to paint as an “itch”; often, I feel that itch myself. And if I ignore it too long, it becomes unbearable and has to be let out, in the form of a painting, drawing or possibly a woodburning. And it must be let out, for the sake of myself and anyone who is stuck caring for me and loving me.
And again, I have to give a shout out to Sai King for his treatment of mental illness in Duma Key. King has dealt with this topic in a few of his other books, including Lisey’s Story, The Dark Tower series, Dreamcatcher and several others. As always, King deals with the topic in a sensitive, thoughtful way and does not disappoint. Wireman, Edgar and Elizabeth all suffer from various mental illnesses, including aphasia, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. However, King is able to make these characters much more than their illnesses, and yet still make them sympathetic because of their various illnesses. He does a fantastic job with Elizabeth in particular, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. My grandmother has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly four years now, so I am familiar with the lows of this condition. There is nothing more heart-breaking that someone who has known you for your whole life being terrified of you because she thinks you are a complete stranger, and having to lie to that woman and telling her that yes, Grandpa is just in the next room and he will be back soon. But the disease also has highs: like Elizabeth, my grandmother is occasionally able to remember the past in perfect clarity, bringing back hope, at least momentarily. And to paraphrase a certain writer, hope is a good thing, and also the best of things.
While I think that Perse is a terrifying King villain, I consider this book to be more tragic than scary. Again, that is the power of Stephen King: he can scare you into a change of pants, and he can also make you reach for the tissue box in almost the very same breath.
For example, there is the scene that depicts the final confrontation with Perse, who comes to Edgar under the guise of his now deceased daughter, Ilse. Yes, the scene was spooky. The description of the apparition as a sandstorm did make me shiver. But it also made me feel sad, seeing how tempted Edgar was by Perse, at the chance to see his daughter one last time. And then he literally watches his deceased daughter turn to dust. So Sai King creeped me out, and then gave me a case of the feelsies a few minutes later…yes, he is that talented!
I think that Duma Key must King’s most tragic book, or at least in the top five. So. Many. Feelsies.
For example, Wireman. Yes, we are back on that subject again. But Wireman is one of King’s most tragic characters, along with being one of my book boyfriends. He loses his wife and child literally moments apart from each other, attempts to commit suicide but is saved by an apple and then begins to lose his vision. He also loses his one remaining family member when Elizabeth Eastlake passes away. However, Edgar cures him of his blindness. But he still passes away from a heart attack while dickering over tomatoes in Mexico…greedy old ka, as a certain character from a certain other King series would say.
And the ending to this one. King has had some interesting endings in his books (Under the Dome, The Stand, 11/22/63 and The Dark Tower series all come to mind, for various reasons). But I think that the ending to Duma Key is probably his saddest. Yes, the evil is technically defeated, after Perse is drowned in fresh water. But did anyone really win? Elizabeth did not, she was Perse’s last victim. Wireman did not, he may have been cured of his blindness, but he died after escaping Duma Key and trying to make a life for himself. Edgar was perhaps the biggest loser of all: he lost his marriage, his daughter and his new-found calling as an artist. He also lost Wiremen, who could be considered the last of his remaining family. So it turns out that Edgar has only one choice: return to where it all started, and destroy it, no matter the cost. And at that point Edgar has nothing to lose, as everything has been taken from him. And he does just that: destroys Duma Key, and ultimately puts his hobby to good use so that no one else will be subject to the suffering.
Any kind of creative process, whether it be writing a novel, painting on a blank canvass, composing a song or any other piece of art, often requires an enormous sacrifice. The artist gives a piece of himself or herself, so that something new is born. And often, demons are roused during this process, and must be faced. So the creative process can be a battle. Duma Key symbolizes this perfectly, reminding us of the pain, and also utter joy, that is the creative process.
Just for the fun of it, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Duma Key:
-Edgar’s abilities are strikingly similar to Patrick Danville’s abilities, another King character who is also an artist. Patrick Danville is a character in the novels Insomnia and The Dark Tower, and he also has the ability to alter reality through his art.
–The number 19 makes an appearance in Duma Key. Edgar’s email address ends with the number 19, and the room number to Pam’s hotel room is 847 (the digits add up to 19). The number 19 plays a huge role for Roland and his friends in the last three books of The Dark Tower series.
-Edgar shares the same last name as Abagail Freemantle, who is a main character in the novel The Stand. The two also seem to share similar clairvoyant abilities.
-The house that Edgar lives in when he relocates to Duma Key is described as being pink in color. In the novel Wizard and Glass, there is an object known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit that is also pink in color, and whoever looks into that object gains clairvoyant abilities that are similar to the ones Edgar gains after he moves to Duma Key.
-Ilse tells Edgar that Perse talks to her through the drain in the kitchen sink. This is similar to how Pennywise the Clown communicates to his intended victims in the novel It, and may suggest that Perse and Pennywise are the same type of creature.