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Duma Key, by Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 3/4/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Duma Key, by Stephen King

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

My first impression of Stephen King's Duma Key came sometime last year when I read the synopsis, about a man who moves into an empty house by the sea, a painter, and his paintings begin to come to life. Given the plot that sounded like I'd read it before, coupled with the disappointment of his last several non-Dark Tower novels ("Lisey's Story", "Cell," "From a Buick 8," Dreamcatcher"), my hopes were pretty low, I'll admit. And when I finally saw the thing and realized it was 609 pages, I wasn't looking forward to the reading. Luckily, however, Duma Key reminded me just why it is I continue to read King; just when you think he's over, he gives you something that, despite not being very original, is a hell of a good read.

Edgar Freemantle is a millionaire building contractor from Minnesota who one day has the right side of his body crushed when a crane backs into his pickup. He loses his right arm (good thing Edgar's a lefty), chunks of his memory, and soon after, his wife. Urged by his psychiatrist to get away and take up a hobby, Edgar finds himself on the west coat of Florida (not far from Sarasota) on a very small island called Duma Key. The house he's leased for the year is on the beach, with a studio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and Edgar quickly learns to put that view to use sketching, and later painting, sunsets. His talent grows by leaps and bounds and when Edgar takes some of his work to a nearby gallery--he wants only an objective opinion--he's offered a show.

Down the beach from Edgar's house, which he calls Big Pink, is the estate of Elizabeth Eastlake, owner of nearly the entire island of Duma Key. Elizabeth is an 80+-year-old woman on the verge of slipping into full-blown Alzheimer's. She's cared for by Jerome Wireman, ex-Omaha lawyer whose own story is probably even more tragic than Edgar's. The three form a bond over their love of the island and art. Then Edgar begins to notice something about his paintings and sketches. There's a connection he makes with the work wherein he begins to experience a form of psychometry, for instance drawing a picture of his younger daughter and being able to sense her unspoken engagement as well as knowing what her boyfriend looks like, right down to the jacket he wears. But his abilities don't stop there. In a trance one night, he paints a picture of a child murderer, only Edgar paints him with no mouth or nose. The next morning, the news comes over the television the man, Candy Brown, died in his sleep the previous night.

But that's not the worst. Edgar's been painting a series called "Girl and Ship," each depicting his daughter Ilse and a mystery ship that's getting closer and more detailed, and he somehow knows this ship is not only real, but is a very real danger to everyone close to him. There's something on Duma Key, something ancient and evil, and it's trying to use Edgar and his talent to bring itself back from the watery grave Elizabeth consigned it to when she was only four.

Granted, Duma Key isn't the most original novel ever. But it's very entertaining, and it's a fast read. 609 pages in 9 days ("Lisey's Story" was 513 and it took me almost a month to read). If I'd been handed the book with the author's name scratched out, I'd have still known it was a King novel, even though it takes place in Florida instead of Maine; it's got King written all over it, from his frequent use of certain phrases ("I had an idea that...") to his constant foreshadowing ("That was the last time we spoke, and neither of us knew" and "I wish with all my heart that I could have seen her better, because I never saw her again"--really, it greatly diminishes the impact of those scenes when they finally arrive 2 chapters later; knowing Ilse will die, by the time the scene arrives, we've gotten over it). I do believe with 45 novels to his credit, there probably isn't anything all that new under the Stephen King sun, but he still manages to take those old themes and ideas and make them interesting, even to longtime readers. I mean, halfway through this novel, once you've figured out enough of what's going on, you'll know what comes next, and you'll be right. But King managed to reign himself in a bit better with this novel, and what comes out is just pure story and plain old enjoyment.

I loved how he never felt the need to go too far into the villain's true motivation, because it just made her all the more malevolent in my eyes. She's not a character, she's an absolute, she was, is, and always will be, and that's that. Perse is, in my opinion, right up there with other classic King villains like Randall Flagg and Pennywise.

King has also painted a beautiful picture of winter- and springtime Florida. Duma Key is a very colorful novel, both in setting and prop. He gives us some amazing visions of the sunsets off the Gulf, and also some truly creepy images in how he describes Edgar's paintings.

The characters were nothing out of the ordinary; like the plot they were standard King stuff. Edgar and Wireman have the typical King main character and old wise man friendship that'll remind any longtime reader of Stu Redman and Glenn Bateman from "The Stand" or Louis Creed and Jud Crandall from "Pet Sematary" (or Clay and Tom in "Cell" or Mark and Ben in "'Salem's Lot" or Roland and Jake in the "Dark Tower" books). It's no secret King's father abandoned the family when Stephen was very young and it makes me wonder if he even realizes most of his books are driven by these father/son type of relationships between the main characters.

But that's neither here nor there. We're talking about Duma Key.

It's just a good book. I mean, that's pretty much all there is to it. It contains all the things we've always loved about his work, and very few of the things we don't. I had a great time reading it and it made the hours literally fly by. I enjoyed the characters as I do most of his characters, but didn't feel particularly attached to them. I think I'll miss the beach and the sunsets more than I will Edgar when I start reading my next book. In the end, Duma Key is a Stephen King novel for Stephen King fans, plain and simple. If you grew up reading him, but gave up when he started being less than brilliant, I think it's safe to say Duma Key can bring you back to the fold. It's not brilliant, no, but it is damn good. 5 stars, easy.
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Comments on Duma Key, by Stephen King
Posted by lilly on 12/26/2008
I love Stephen King. I am glad to have read your review on 'Duma Key' because I did almost give up on him after reading 'Lisey's Story'. Now I will give him another try.