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The Dark Half Mass Market Paperback – October 3, 1990
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In 1985, 39-year-old Stephen King announced in public that his pseudonymous alter ego, Richard Bachman, was dead. (Never mind that he revived him years later to write The Regulators.) At the beginning of The Dark Half (1989), 39-year-old writer Thad Beaumont announces in public that his own pseudonym, George Stark, is dead.
Now, King didn't want to jettison the Bachman novel, titled Machine Dreams, that was he working on. So he incorporated it in The Dark Half as the crime oeuvre of George Stark, whose recurring hero/alter ego is an evil character named Alexis Machine.
Thad Beaumont's pseudonym is not so docile as Stephen King's, though, and George Stark bursts forth into reality. At that point, two stories kick into gear: a mystery-detective story about the crime spree of George Stark (or is it Alexis Machine?) and a horror story about Beaumont's struggle to catch up with his doppelganger and kill him dead.
This is not the first time that Stephen King has written a dark allegory about the fiction writer's situation. As the New York Times writes, "Misery (1987) is a parable in chiller form of the popular writer's relation to his audience, which holds him prisoner and dictates what he writes, on pain of death. The Dark Half is a parable in chiller form of the popular writer's relation to his creative genius, the vampire within him, the part of him that only awakes to raise Cain when he writes, the fratricidal twin who occupies 'the womblike dungeon' of his imagination." --Fiona Webster
From Publishers Weekly
The protagonist of King's "top-notch" novel is literary novelist Thad Beaumont, whose greatest success has come with three gory thrillers written under the pseudonym George Stark. Beaumont is threatened by a blackmailer who may reveal Stark's identity; Beaumont kills off Stark instead; and Stark goes on a murderous rampage. "Wondrously frightening . . . among the best of his voluminous work," maintained PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I felt moments in-between when reading, where the narrative dragged out – embellishing characters and their back-stories, or descriptions of the landscape of the novel that slowed the pace and had me speed-reading through. Though my interest in the novel never waned. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. Eager to learn the secrets of Thad and Stark.
Thad was an interesting protagonist. I related to him immediately being a writer, and how he would get lost in a fugue of writing as if being taken over by another presence entirely. Though the smoking, drinking, patriarch stereotype that edged its way into this character annoyed me a little. But on the whole I found Thad to be intelligent, imaginative and a real risk taker; all with layers of love and compassion. I found perfection in his layers of imperfection.
As I did to his wife, Liz. I frequently was reminded of the phrase about poking a mumma bear with a stick when her twin children were threatened. Liz was always the quintessential homemaker, adoring her little family and supporting her husband. But the moment any of that was endangered she roared and snapped like a wild animal. Her protective spirit and tenacity created a deep respect.
Our straight-man (so to speak) being Sheriff Alan Pagborn filled the much needed critic against the supernatural. He guides the reader and grounds the narrative. The sceptic who deals only in facts and proof to form a conclusion. His added point of view helps to add credence to the theories Thad and his wife instinctively know.
I found the cast interesting, fully developed and added something unique to the story line, ultimately rounding it in some realism. Though the plot itself did fell drawn out a little too long, the journey there was paced well and held my interest. Stephen King’s writing style is prominent, though more intimate than his earlier works. For a novel nearly 600 pages long, I seemed to fly through it.
I was a little disappointed in the mythology of the novel – I’d read about the significance of sparrows before in Trent Jamison’s Deathworks novels, so this aspect was not a huge surprise to me; though Thad’s role felt like it was left hanging. Why had this event taken place in the first instance? Does Thad have some sort of ability? Was it Stark all along, clawing his way back from some dark place? I felt like I was wanting more resolution to this, or even a paragraph explaining why, but we didn’t get an answer.
I’ve read creepier, gorier books from King. But I have to say, ‘The Dark Half’ had just enough of both to satisfy this genre without making it difficult to read. The thriller-suspense is light, but a great story to ignite the imagination of any wanna-be writer.
It could have been a tad shorter, a tad more intense, and ended with more of an exclamation point, but a novel I’d be happy to recommend to all. I’d have to rank it in the top half of my King favourites.
Not until I had written this review did I discover that ‘The Dark Half’ had been adapted into a film in 1993 – silly me, I should have checked, with so many of King’s titles being optioned for screen adaptations, it’s kind of a given.
The Dark Half is an underrated book. Thad Beaumont had a parasitic twin removed from inside his skull when he was 12. Since then, he's become a critically acclaimed literary writer and a blockbuster crime writer under the pseudonym George Stark, who goes on a murderous rampage when Thad kills him off.
This is one of those books where the main character is the least interesting one. Alan Pangborn is a great viewpoint character and a lot more interesting than Thad. He's a small town sheriff trying to do his job despite some crazy stuff happening.
Basically, The Dark Half is Parker chasing down Donald Westlake. Since I've read all 23 Parker books Richard Stark wrote since the first time I read this, the reread was a much richer experience. I noticed some Richard Stark influence in the George Stark chapters. Also, I enjoyed the Creepshow reference, although I might have to check the timeline to see which one actually came first. "Call me Billie, everyone does!"
Aside from the psychopomp business with the sparrows and Stark falling apart, The Dark Half is pretty much a crime book. It doesn't feel nearly as long winded as some of King's books and the ending didn't suck for once. George Stark was a chilling villain and since I forgot the ending, I had no idea if Thad would live or not. Four out of five stars.
Most recent customer reviews
Great book, Oldie but goodie.