Sometimes I read a long book and wish it were shorter. But reading Stephen King’s Duma Key was not one of those times. The story is beautifully plotted and paced, from the slightly off-kilter wonder of the first page—“Pictures are magic, as you know”—to the real-world tragedy of a brain-injured one-armed man, to the fearful, awful revelations around page 600.
The heroes in this novel are very real, very wounded people, old enough to know a bit about life, and sad enough to maybe wish they knew less. There’s a woman suffering with Alzheimers, sometimes there, sometimes far far away, and sometimes somewhere in between. There’s the man who cares for her. And there’s the builder turned artist, whose brain injury leaves him struggling for words, whose honesty compels him to blame himself when his family drives him away, and whose pictures come to glorious life in the author’s vivid descriptions.
There are lessons about forgiveness and hope, about flawed relationships, and love and loss. They’re lessons just as valid to the only slightly wounded as to these characters coming to terms with the hurts of their pasts. And there’s a beautiful sympathy in the telling. Meanwhile there are undercurrents of whispering fear, childlike requests that hide a child’s memories, and grown-up obstinacy that hides an all-too-familiar childlike fear.
I loved the characters and wished I could see them healed. But Stephen King is a master of making the most of only partial healing, reflecting the real world in the imaginary, as his character’s pictures reflect their own strange truths.
Duma Key is a haunting book filled with complex characters, thoughts and images; a long, slow, scary and wonderful read.