Duma Key 

by Stephen King

Not quite good enough to be entirely interesting and not quite scary enough to be... well, all that scary, Duma Key is a weird book. For its overly long first half, we get little more than the vaguely ominous story of Edgar Freemantle, a "genuine American-boy success" whose life has gone to shit. After being crushed inside a Dodge Ram, Edgar's missing his right arm and is unable to speak coherently; within months, his wife's divorced him and he's planning his suicide. Edgar's shrink recommends he leaves his Minnesota home to start over, and he's mysteriously drawn to Florida's Duma Key—a suspiciously quiet island where he begins painting, meets a few locals, and starts having the occasional blackout or hallucination.

Later rather than sooner, we see the bigger picture: There's some creeeeepy historical shit in Duma's past, and Edgar's two new pals—a senile old biddy named Elizabeth Eastlake and her likeable caretaker, Wireman—know more than they're telling. As Edgar's painting career inexplicably takes off (seriously, dude's paintings sound terrible), the lurking shadows grow more distinct—by the time King's milking the phrase "phantom limb" for all it's worth, we're in full-on ghost story territory. (Strangely, the pulpier Duma Key gets, the better it reads: Edgar's mopey navel-gazing is a trial, but by the time he observes, "There was a larger wet patch where the demon sailor had been only a moment before" or duels a "whirling sand-devil," the book boasts a goofy charm.)

King's at his best when he's teasing elements of the surreal into everyday life (Misery, Carrie, the first half of The Stand), or when he totally immerses us in surreal, alien worlds (The Gunslinger). With Duma Key, King does neither; more disappointingly, none of it's surprising. Duma Key's plot is reminiscent of several previous King novels; its backstory reads like a haunted The Great Gatsby (King even drops F. Scott Fitzgerald's name once or twice); and there are some Creative Writing 101 bits of foreshadowing. "This is about memory," Edgar narrates at one point, and fair enough: Duma Key follows a man attempting to build a new life, yet he's unable to escape the past. But even so: There's no need for any book, and especially for one featuring demon sailors, to feel this familiar.

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