Literary Inspiration: Duma Key

Duma Key Main Collage

Or Pet Sematary II: The Golden Years: But not Maine this time; Florida.  ‘Twas too weighty a title, however, so Duma Key it was. 😉

So for those curious as to how I’m doing on my friend Julie’s reading challenge – terribly! I am doing terribly. I’m not even 10 books through the 24-strong list of challenge themes, and that’s in part because I keep picking gigantic tomes like this one, another 700-page Stephen King bruiser that takes you from Minnesota to Florida and back again, with stops at Insanity Isle and It’s Raining Frogs Junction in between.  I think Duma Key nicely satisfies the “Cover art that draws you in” test Julie laid down for the challenge – I particularly like the partially submerged, holographic lettering of King’s name.

Duma Key Cover Collage

The basics: Duma Key is about – and told from the perspective of – 50-something Edgar Freemantle, construction company president, formerly of Minnesota, now of Duma Key, Florida. There are a lot of “formerlies” in Edgar’s life at the beginning of the novel – former job, former marriage, former body, the latter down one right arm following a gruesome workplace accident.  But it’s not so much the physical afflictions – the amputated arm, the pulverized ribs – that trouble Edgar’s mind, it’s Edgar’s mind itself, which, damaged just as badly as his physical body, turns toward anger, confusion and random, violent outbursts in the wake of his terrible accident.  Most of the people in Edgar’s life stand by him during this upsetting time, but many do not.

After his wife leaves him, one of Edgar’s therapists asks him if he ever enjoyed any kind of creative outlet as a younger man.  Edgar replies that before he devoted his life to the construction company that made him a millionaire many times over, he liked to draw, had even once entertained the notion of going to art school. Agreeing that art is an important part of both physical and mental therapies, the doctor suggests Edgar take up drawing once again, and maybe seek out a major change in location while he’s at it.

And so Edgar moves to Duma Key, Florida, a rather runty, overgrown spit of land clinging desperately to the Gulf Coast, taking up residence at a gigantic, rose-hued house-on-stilts he affectionately dubs Big Pink. Inspired by the gorgeously lurid Gulf sunsets, Edgar begins to paint.  At night the creeping tide makes the shells that build up beneath the house clatter together, and they sound like bones.  Or voices.

Duma Key 1

And I won’t go any further than that, because to do so would ruin the Kingsian journey and that aggravatingly persistent – but still enjoyable – feeling that you, the reader, are being inexorably driven toward something you’re not entirely sure you want to discover. It actually reminded me very much of Pet Sematary in that way – another story of family, those we’re bound to by blood and those by choice, and the grim decisions we’re forced to make to preserve those bonds.  Also ghosts, the discovery of a late-in-life mentor type, middle-of-the-night visits from should-be-dead people, a sassy, prescient old person, and endless marches through claustrophobic underbrush.

Also a lot of Surrealism – of the artistic variety, although I think that’s a pretty apt descriptor for the entirety of Duma Key.  I definitely felt like my head had been messed with a trifle after I finished the book, a comfortably uncomfortable feeling that lets you know you’ve really discovered something special.  Very enjoyable, even if I “Whuuuuuuu?”‘d the ending hard.  Wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if the final pages didn’t leave you deeply perplexed, I suppose.

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6 thoughts on “Literary Inspiration: Duma Key

  1. Partners in suckage it seems. I’m only on book 11 and not even reading large ones, so I have no excuse.
    Something that doesn’t suck is this nail art/cover art inspiration. And what trippy cover art it is. I swear I’ve read one, if not two, SK stories involving raining frogs. What a weird fetish. Though I’ve never paid this book any attention till now, thanks to your review, I’m intrigued but hesitant to add it. The plot and classic King-style manipulation sounds reminiscent of Bag of Bones, which I hated. Total sell-out, let down ending and that story was so bloated I quit the King and haven’t gone back. If I do revisit his writing, I doubt it will be with a tome this large (especially with my current patterns) but the new co-written story Gwendy’s Button Box has gotten good word-of-mouth…hmm, never say never when it comes to Stephen King I guess.

    • Stephen King, man – he likes the amphibian-based weather events. He’s probably writing a book right now (he’s at least 250 pages in) about today’s eclipse…and the moon will be in the shape of a frog.

      I see your intrigued-but-hesitant and raise you a weird-but-enjoyable. I haven’t read Bag of Bones, so I can’t comment on that, but I don’t particularly enjoy anything he wrote during that period. But Duma Key is gentle (?) in the way that I think Bag of Bones was, and Pet Sematary and The Green Mile, too – just that creeping, gently flowing, everyday horror he does so well for about three-quarters of the book. Then everything goes off the mothereffin’ rails, and Duma Key is no exception – I scoffed at the third ending to the book (it’s like Lord of the Rings in that way; it’s never, ever going to end!)

      So if that kind of thing really gets your fur up, I understand why you might want to stay away. It’s so classically King, that near-compulsion to blow up his own creation 10 minutes before he throws the switch – aggravating, but apparently funny to me now (it also may be genetic; my dad just about blew a gasket over the ending of Cell.)

      But! I really loved Duma Key, because it’s so very much like Pet Sematary in both structure and, to a certain extent, story. Just instead of being told from the perspective of a young man embarking on a new chapter of his life (or being shoved in that direction by supernatural forces) it’s about a middle aged man coming to grips with the second act of his life (also being shoved in that direction by supernatural forces.) It’s gentle and folksy and deeply creepy, and there’s some great stuff in it about art, and I loved the change in location – moving the story out of Maine for once was a great choice. King’s Florida is very atmospheric.

      Okay, talked long enough about this one – hope I managed to sell you on Duma Key. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about those last 10 pages or so!

      Also, we do not suck. We’re simply choosy. 🙂

  2. I read this book years and years ago and I enjoyed it very much. Between it being Stephen King and taking place on the Gulf coast (I think near Sarasota-ish it seemed) I knew I needed to read it. I LOVE your ode to the book with this mani. It looks incredible. Glad you liked the book! I kinda want to get into the Dark Tower series. Have you read it?

    • That’s funny – I had you in mind a few times as I read it; thought you had told me at some point that you had read it and enjoyed it, and I wondered how you felt about King’s Florida (as I said to Jay, very atmospheric! And, per usual, kind of haunted.) And thank you, I think these nails turned out rather well, SOMEHOW – I assure you those very cool beachside breakers are mostly accidental!

      I’ve never read the Dark Tower series before – it has always seemed like a very daunting task. I HAVE run across a number of Dark Tower-related stories in his short story work, though, and I’m reading The Stand at the moment, which also contains Dark Tower characters. So I guess I’m reading it by proxy? If you’re not daunted by the prospect of so many pages, I think it would probably be a pretty great read.

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