Friday, 17 June 2016

The Dark Half, by Stephen King

So my investigation into the works of Stephen King continues with The Dark Half, a 1989 novel about SK's favourite type of character- the Author. This particular author is Maine native Thaddeus (yup, really) Beaumont, a well-reviewed but not exactly best selling author of two novels and creative writing professor. He is also, secretly, the man behind the wildly popular and incredibly violent Alexis Machine novels, writing under the "Nom de Plume" of George Stark. Despite his fake author bio, his fake author shots and his fake name, George Stark has been paying Thad's bills for years. Following the birth of twins and after a blackmail attempt from a would-be whistle blower, Thad decides to kill off his alter ego and put an end to Stark. His next book will be under his own name, for better of for worse. 

The book begins with an 11 year old Thad having a tumour removed after a series of sensory abnormalities and a fit- only it's not a tumour, it's a partially absorbed fraternal twin lodged in Thad's frontal lobe. Twins and their inherent mirror-traits are pretty recurrent themes throughout this book.

When somebody begins murdering people connected to Thad- his handyman; one of the partners in his publishing firm; the would-be-whistle blower, the assistant who gave the whistle blower information...and leaving Thad's prints all around the crime scene things get a bit paranormal. Enter one of King's specialities- the lovable cop who has trouble connecting the evidence with what's in front of his face. Much like Sheriff Bannerman of Dead Zone, Sheriff Pangborn is a stickler for evidence and good, solid police work and struggles accepting things which turn his whole understanding of reality inside out. Alan Pangborn is almost front and centre in this novel- though the audience kind of knows what's going on earlier, it's his acceptance of the unlikely facts that we are rooting for. Personally I think his character evolves the most; from a jumped up I'm-the-Sheriff-now-boys type to an almost intimate friend of the family. It was for his preservation that I found myself most eager.

The Dark Half an interesting insight into an author's head- that constant walking of the line between fantasy and reality, the dangerous ability to plumb the depths of human behaviour for inspiration and the effect that it might have on the person doing the plumbing. Thad strikes the reader as a clumsy, fairly likeable guy. Ordinary, loves his family, laughs at his own jokes a bit. But it's obvious that he has a great capacity for darkness. His wife Liz hates him when he writes a George- he changes. He drinks a lot and becomes short tempered and cold. Though George is Thad's own creation, she is afraid of the similarities that exist between them.

As ever, a really enjoyable read and I think it's undeservedly overlooked. It's certainly not one of King's most famous books, but it's really worth a read just to hear such a prolific writer's experiences of the writer's process, though they are in this case fictional. Despite this, it's obvious that King's own experiences with pseudonyms is bursting to the forefront. I felt like I really understood how a writer must feel, living with another world, other people existing in their head and the tricks that it must play on their reality.

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