A Sabbatical on Duma Key

April 19, 2015

It’s easy to get lost in a good book.  Not every book has this power but some stories can pull you in like the undertow and as long as the book continues, your consciousness is split between your familiar world and the narrative of the story, where you live fully and completely in its pages.  I love getting sucked into a story but, between you and me, it’s painful when it happens because I always finish these books with a sense of bereavement.  The consciousness I’ve been tuned into since the early pages slips away with the ending and leaves me back in this existence, a bit breathless and diminished by the loss.  It takes a while to get used to this life again.  So, be warned if you pick up a copy of Duma Key: despite the loss, evil and horror in its pages, you won’t want this story to end.

It’s the confession of Edgar Freemantle, a man learning some Americans have more than one act in their lives.  The first act of his ended when a work accident stole his arm, the ability to communicate and, in the end, his marriage.  Stuck and unhappy, Edgar decides to spend a year in the warmer world of Florida, “land of the newly wed and nearly dead” and either create a new life for himself or a suicide plan that his daughters won’t detect.  Nothing surprises him more when Florida begins to deliver the recovery he needs with Duma Key’s relatively undeveloped blocks of beachfront, a good friend and a developing gift for drawing.  Unfortunately, every gift has its price.

There was a point in my life when I never expected to praise Duma’s author, Stephen King, but that time has long since passed.  The caricatures of villains that populated Christine and Carrie left long ago and his novels are filled with pacing and focus.  The pop-culture jokes and references still exist along with lyrical passages and meditations on the nature of loss, recovery and the creative life.  Most of all, there is an emotional honestly in Edgar Freemantle’s story that makes him one of King’s most likeable imperfect heroes.  Freemantle is never so warm-hearted that the reader can’t see his relentless drive and how it alienated his ex-wife.  On the other hand, Pam is never so negative that you wonder why he wanted her in the first place. Duma Key is, among other things, the story of when a good relationship between decent people goes bad, a far more interesting (and subtle) subject than the cliche of an abusive marriage.  In Duma Key, most of the damage is created by decent people through a series of unconscious choices, turning a thriller into a tragedy.  It is eloquent in regret and grief.

But those are the emotions of survivors and Duma shows that life goes on, whether we like it or not.  Past war, past sorrow, past the death of their nearest and dearest, survivors continue on with their scars and knowledge of the past.  Like the readers of an “undertow” book they emerge on the far shore of experience, breathless and uncertain about what happens next.  And the readers turn the last page and blink in the remembered sunlight, their faces still turned toward the sea.

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