“We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living.”
Don’t we all do that? We tell more lies to ourselves than we tell others, even if we aren’t proud of it. Although we carry sprinkles of acidic drops of regrets for a couple of days, we eventually get out of it. Lies are like butter on hot bread. They disappear, leaving only the essence behind.
The case is entirely different when we start telling lies to ourselves. It’s somewhat like cheating ourselves, putting us down even when we know we do not deserve the punishment. There is no room for guilt but a sense of gloom that lasts even after years.
Our protagonist in Duma Key tells similar lies to himself. A successful contractor, Edgar Freemantle, loses some parts of his brain after sustaining a countercoup injury. He starts lying to himself after he gets confined to bed while failing to remember words to speak, thinking he is a useless blob of meat; only spite and anger fill his head.
Things take a turn, and he leaves his town to travel south to the Gulf of Mexico. It feels as if Stephen King is driving us in his hatchback through the never-ending roads of the USA. Is this his first attempt to write something wholly located outside the northern east coast of America? Nevertheless, sitting facing the breeze at the Gulf of Mexico feels refreshing.
Our protagonist isn’t left alone for long and is accompanied by the hustler, Mr. Jack Cantori, and the oldie advocate, Mr. Freeman. The jolly ride continues for a while. Then, Mr. Fremantle develops a habit. A tale that he suppressed before ages by lying to himself turns out to be a local hit. The ride lasts a little longer, getting you to the edge of forming your opinion that the book might be ‘boring’ and dropping you off into the abyss. King always does that. Doesn’t he? But, this time, the abyss is not situated in the denser jungles of Maine but at an unexplored beach in Florida.
Fun fact: Until now, I thought ‘key’ was only a metallic thing we use to open locks. There are always more English words to learn.
King surpasses Lovecraft in his innate talent to make horror subjects more relatable. While H.P. Lovecraft brings gods, demons, and supernatural creatures to scare you, King uses your people. The horror is more profound when something distressing happens to a family member or a close friend. This is a common plot line that runs through many King novels.
The themes explored in Duma Key feel new and refreshing. Beaches, gulfs, paintings, breeze, and storms – everything seems so surreal in this book. King has not delved more into descriptions in Duma Key. I’m grateful that he didn’t include more descriptive, which would have stretched Duma Key by two hundred more pages, taking away all the joy of the story.
What makes Stephen King the best is that whenever he writes horror. It’s not always about jump scares or sudden deaths. He writes about daily life events where family and friends lead everyday lives (of course, there is an unspoken past), where, slowly, the dark lichens start creeping through. This is how he succeeds in keeping your nerves twisted throughout the book. The same underlying horror runs through this book’s first half and slowly starts to devolve more territory as the book progresses through the second half.
He beautifully delves into the theme of father-daughter relationships, making it resonate with parents and children worldwide. There are undoubtedly some lines that will bring tears to your eyes. The grief of separation, the life a parent has to lead with his favorite kids staying miles far away and apart—the anxiety about the children who would be the victims of the horror that lingers through the story. King definitely pulls some strings of your hearts.
The ending, although expected, rubs away those scratches made by the evil muses of boredom. The book might just have a slog in the middle, but you’ll not be disappointed towards the end. I personally felt the climax was fantastic. I sped through the last 50 pages of the book with great interest.
Stephen King is my favorite author, and this book only deepened my admiration. It was a genuinely delightful and beautiful experience. There was a small lump in my throat while I turned the book’s last 3–4 pages. Stephen King is a legend, truly.
I was always afraid to watch a horror movie. It gave me sleepless nights. But as I started reading horror books, the fun has never been higher. While this novel may not be as frightening as Pet Sematary, the absence of genuinely spine-tingling moments is justified. The beach and the calm sea breeze offer relaxation, even though the devil’s presence is deadlier here. Duma Key skillfully balances its theme and undertone.”
I feel the story could have been trimmed in some parts, but the writer is a boss. King has such a vast scale that you wouldn’t feel bad criticizing some aspects of his book because there is always a better Stephen King book to read.
I’d give this book ⅘ stars if you like slow-burn horrors. You have to read this book.