Okay, now that I’ve slept on this a couple of days, I think my final thoughts are that this is a nearly perfect horror novel (hence the 4.5 stars, rounded up). I say nearly because there were a couple of moments that really didn’t age well. But most of it still holds up unbelievably well. The more SK books I’ve read, the more my (obvious) theory—that he is often at his best when he’s writing about writers—holds true. The Dark Half was notably written after Uncle Stevie’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, was blown. Some people seem to write this book off as an act of spite, but I think it’s a lot more than that.
On the surface, this is a book about a writer whose pseudonym comes to life (after he symbolically kills him off, complete with a photoshoot of a fake funeral published in People magazine) and starts killing everyone he holds responsible for his “death.” On that level, it’s a wild ride, as you just watch and wait for the pseudonym, George Stark, to complete his mission, while at the same time terrorizing his alter ego, Thad Beaumont, and Thad’s wife and baby twins, from afar. There are some truly creepy and alternatively cool and gruesome moments in this book, which is one of the most imaginative I’ve read from SK. It really feels like he tapped into something and let himself go for it with this one.
But the deeper shit going on here is what really draws me to it. The first half of the novel was fascinating, as Thad is blamed for everything at first. The tension in the authorities (in this case the Sheriff of Castle Rock, Maine, Alan Pangborn) having absolute proof that Thad is the murderer (think: fingerprints) and absolute proof that he also couldn’t have done it (ironclad alibi) is played masterfully. Because Pangborn is a good guy with good instincts, he gets involved in the case in a way he normally wouldn’t, and this strange relationship blooms between him and Thad, and Thad’s wife, Liz. The shifting dynamics between these characters remains fascinating throughout the book.
And then there’s the writer stuff. Because it’s obvious SK was working something out here, about what it means to be a writer, and the places writers can go in pursuit of their creations. This is why I say this book wasn’t written purely as an exercise in spite. It feels too personal for that.
As a sidenote, I switched back and forth between the paperback copy and the audiobook because I didn’t want to be away from the book, and both were good experiences. I liked the audio narrator quite a bit, and I’m surprised he hasn’t narrated any more of King’s books.