“A Good Marriage” and “1922” by Stephen King

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A Good Marriage and 1922 Stephen King

Kindle Edition, 253 pages

Published: September, 2014 (Scribner)

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“A Good Marriage”

Is it possible to ever completely know another person?

Darcy has been happily married for over 27 years. Her relationship with her stolid, kind accountant husband may lack spark, but it is a good marriage — a loving, secure marriage. While Bob is away on one of his business trips, Darcy ventures into his garage, looking for AA batteries. She stubs her toe on a box under the worktable and makes a horrific discovery.

I like the Jungian vibe of this story; inside the most innocuous individual — a sweet guy who seldom raises his voice — is a shadow side darker than you would imagine. And I found this story surprisingly unsettling. When Stephen King is at his best, that is his true genius, rattling those subliminal fears we have carefully tucked away in the attic. I suspect many of us, on an unconscious level, fear that shadow side — of ourselves and our loved ones — and are a bit daunted by those unopened rooms in happy long-term relationships.

And seriously, I can’t think of anything more horrifying that discovering that your significant other is a monster. Unless it’s making that discovery about your own child. Forget those legions of horror flicks — We Need to Talk About Kevin is the most terrifying freaking movie I’ve ever seen.

Another thing I appreciate about “A Good Marriage” is the slow, carefully observed portrayal of Darcy’s shock and the unfolding trauma she experiences as she grapples with her discovery. Again, this is Stephen King at his best, giving us an utterly convincing picture of what goes on in a person’s mind.

“1922”

Eight years ago, in 1922, Wilfred enlisted the help of his 14-year-old son Henry to murder his recalcitrant wife, Arlette. If she had been a good pliant wife, she would still be alive.

Living a solitary existence in a hotel room, and nearing the end of his life, Wilf pens his confession. He ruminates on his guilt for what he considers his true crime, the damage done to Henry’s mind and soul by colluding to kill his mother. And Wilf reveals the horrible price he paid for his transgressions. Despite being an unreliable narrator — “I would not write anything I didn’t know to be true” — he tells a compelling tale.

Although “The Good Marriage” has garnered more attention, due to the dreadful movie adaptation, this is actually the better story. How can I describe how much I loved — LOVED this dark novella? It reminded me of how brilliant Stephen King truly is — with language, dialogue, characterization, and exploration of the light and dark in human nature. I also savor his skillful attention to word choice.

It’s a chilling and remarkably vivid Poesque tale. The setting is beautifully recreated. Vibrant descriptive details conjure the expansive farmlands of rural Nebraska, and the author depicted the era with carefully observed details. Wilf is a satisfyingly morally ambiguous narrator — despicable, yet intelligent and strangely likeable, insightful, yet blind to his own delusions.

And how I loved the ubiquitous sense of dread as Wilf faces retribution for sins. There is nothing explicitly supernatural here — or is there? Yet there’s an escalating sense of phantom menace — just under the surface — not quite emerging. The lines between the plausible and the preternatural — between reality and hallucination — are increasingly porous, and this story is horrifically disturbing.

Oh … and don’t read this if you have a phobia of rats. 🙂

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