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.
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.
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.