Duma Key (Stephen King)

“At first you were afraid you’d die, then you were afraid you wouldn’t. That’s what Wireman says.” (Edgar Freemantle)

I’d had Duma Key in my hands more than once before buying it. There was always something about it that seemed to put me off. It was set in Florida. The setting didn’t really interest me. The cover said something about missing girls – meh. And most of all: it was written in first person. That’s something I’d never seen with King at that point. It reminded me a bit too much of Lovecraft, so I always put it away.

And then, once, I actually brought it home and read it. Completely by coincidence, I guess. Good thing I did.

Duma Key starts first-person-man Edgar Freemantle, who loses an arm and part of his sanity in a workplace accident. Suddenly, his life falls apart. To get a grip on things, his doctor advises him to start painting. So mister Freemantle ends up on Duma Key, Florida, and it turns out he’s actually a genious. But then things go haywire as it turns out creativity comes at a price and Edgar is forced to re-evaluate his creations and overcome his demons.

The first hundred pages reminded me of Shutter Island, in that the protagonist is untrustworthy and unpredictable. He’s foulmouthed, agressive and obviously suffered immense head trauma. But slowly, the book turns into a revalidation story: how can someone whose life has been turned upside down get a grip on his newfound reality? And, in true King fashion, this part is followed by a complete bloody supernational mess. Which is fine.

But like any great King novel, it’s the middle part where Duma Key truly shines. Edgar’s slowly finding and reinventing himself through painting, through creativity and art. It oozes King – who was nearly killed in a car accident about ten years ago. You can tell the author knows his stuff. Edgar is painfully real, he’s flawed and he knows it. You’ll fall in love with him pretty fast. For me, it was the moment where he describes, in great detail, how he killed a little dog that had been hit by a car. Not a clean job when you’ve only got one arm.

If you’re looking to get into King, I think this one’s a nice entry. Duma Key doesn’t juggle around tons of characters like IT or The Stand. It’s more intimate: a rich tale with an uncanny psychological insight into revalidation and rediscovery. And if that’s not enough, it also offers you an interesting view on creativity: as a scary thing, a monster that gives and takes and makes you to suffer to create.