Monday, June 27, 2011

The Dark Half by Stephen King: Impressions

I seem to have got stuck in a phase of literary disenchantment. Every book I pick up seems to disappoint me in one way or another. The case in point, after the IMMORTALS OF MELUHA, is Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF. Admittedly, I’ve been choosing only light, racy reads, since that’s all my end-of-the-day dead brain can manage, and mustn’t really expect literature of an exalted kind. But when an author has impressed you once, you expect to keep his act up.

The movie, THE GREEN MILE, will turn just about anyone into a Stephen King fan (whether or not they’ve read him). Post that movie, I had read his novel, NEEDFUL THINGS and became firmly fixed in King’s fandom. So I opened the trusty old Flipkart and ordered King’s second-best selling book, THE DARK HALF, which has also been made into a movie. I just finished reading it, and the book felt wrong on so many levels.

The first thing I felt was the disconnected parts of the plot. The author seemed to have thrown in sub-plots as he went along; as if he had no whole story in mind – only a vague concept. Secondly, so many of the episodes seem unnecessary – exercises in page-filling. Even if a supernatural thriller, the lack of logic is pronounced. The murder of Homer Gamache, by Thad Beaumont’s Dark Half/ twin/ pen name, George Stark, for example, is unexplained till the end. Ironically, that’s what opens the main plot. Another inexplicable bit is Stark calling Beaumont’s wife, Liz, by the name Beth. When Liz asks Stark why he does that, he gives her (and the readers) a rather vague and unsatisfactory answer. The third instance of excess is the grave incident. It is never really explained how and under what circumstances Stark got in and then out of the grave. It was as if the author didn’t know what to do with the fake tombstone element. Too many loose ends.

The book holds out with two things though. The idea that a writer’s alter ego can become so powerful, that it almost becomes real. The book’s plot has pushed this idea to the literal, making real the protagonist’s alter ego (who writes gory novels and murderously chases his milder self for self preservation). That his pen name should somehow be his undeveloped twin is again, IMHO, an unnecessary addition.

The second strong point of the plot is the consistent symbolical use of sparrows that keep making special appearances throughout the book, as harbingers of the living dead, and are the villain killers in the end. The vivid last scene is probably the only thing from the book, that’ll stay with me for a while.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Spring cleaning

(Image from

   Good things must often begin with the not-so-good. Spring cleaning wasn't the best way to begin the season of light and warmth and colour, but the old must be done away with, to make place for the new, mustn't it? She sat amidst a mountain of mess, pulling out things and memories from her closet.
    And, then, like a ruthless Tsunami, memories gushed forth. Unabashed. Unrepentant. An old photo-frame here, a worn out sweater there. Some mugs tossed in there casually, the new abode of some spiders. Then she saw it. That relic of her kaleidoscopic past. Its impact searing her retina. It was just a small black diary. She could feel her heart thud like a drum and that faint feeling of sinking begin to gnaw away.     
   Some dried petals fell out, as she held aloft the diary, and put an end to the debate of whether she should open it or not. The now bare stem of that long-lost symbol of love guided her to that day of January, 1996. She smiled, as she read the opening words of a heartbroken teenager. "Dear Diary, I want to kill myself, and him..."     
   "...I really mean it. This bottle of rat poison that I've smuggled into my purse is going to do the trick. A few drops into our coffee tomorrow, and I will end this misery! What does he mean we are just not on the same wavelength anymore? Didn't feel like that when we made love in his pad last week! It's that bitch, playing games. Ha! How would he know I've just ran my car over her? Aren't accidents common in this part of town? *Giggle*."
    She looked up from the diary and laughed out loud at the memory. She had been quite the firebrand in those days. Fortunately, only the Bitch's leg was broken in that accident. And the rat poison had never happened. Good sense had prevailed. 'It should have...' she thought. Two fat tear drops blotted some words on the page, and she started shedding silent tears. Aravind was a beautiful dream that had ended too young.
    She flipped over a couple of pages. November 96. "Dear Diary, Just back from Aravind's wedding. It was grand. He looked cute. I actually smiled at his wife. I loved his expression, when I went on stage to meet them. For all he's done to me, I actually wish him well. Couldn't stay there very long. It hurt. Him too? Wonder... They're relocating to NZ. He's always loved that place. We'd planned a holiday there. Sighhhh.. I miss him bad. Feeling bleary, baby. Think it's this rum. Glass number 4. Ha! I'm happy.... " :-/
    There stuck a picture of a dashing 28-year-old Aravind, his pretty, wide-smiling bride, Mischa, and her, still the awkward teenager, edging towards womanhood. She ran her fingers over the picture, especially over Aravind's face, and smiled. Then she remembered what cancer had done to his handsome countenance, and tears streamed down her face again.
    It was 14 years since she last saw him on that bed. She saw him until she could bear to see no more. The mess of saline lines hanging over him, his skeletal body -  a sad reminder of his muscular frame. She'd walked away sobbing, vowing never to be back. She had slept that night, crying. Numb with  pain. Unable to feel anything else. When she woke up the next morning, she really couldn't feel a thing. She was unable to move, unable to feel her legs. It took months for the fact to sink in that she was paralyzed, and could walk no more. Aravind had died sometime in those dreadful months too. She never found the strength to verify the news. It wasn't his death that had crushed her; it was the death of the idea of her first love that she had grieved - soul and body. 
   Years of visits to specialists had only offered one diagnosis: her paralysis was psychosomatic. Nothing was physically wrong with her. Physiotherapists, psychiatrists, and even faith healers had tried to convince her she could walk. But she wouldn't. She couldn't. She wondered which part of her didn't want to.
   Her husband, Dev, had been kind. Beyond kind. He was a physiotherapist, and they'd met during one of her first frantic visits to the hospitals. She hadn't got used to this cumbersome wheelchair then. She hadn't gotten used to her legs (or her mind) not obeying her then. She hadn't gotten used to the past tense that Aravind had become then. She was hysterical, when she first met Dev. Somehow, his understanding presence had broken her down. She howled in pain, or the lack of it in her legs, letting loose all the anguish that her tender 20-year-old heart had held.
   Dev had held her then, as he held her now. Forever loving, forever patient. He was patiently stirring the soup in the kitchen now, even as she messed about with the skeletons in her closet. She smiled fondly at the gentle noises of the wooden ladle. Ever so consistent. It had taken years of Dev's mature love for her to start forgetting Aravind, and now she had stupidly done this. She shut the diary and wheeled her chair to the window of their fifth floor apartment, which overlooked the river. She closed her eyes, and flung the diary out, feeling the weight of her past let go of her shoulders, her head, her heart. It was high time Aravind made place for Dev...
   She sat back, and took a deep breath. She felt light. Her heart felt joy. Her stomach felt fluttery... Fluttery? Wait-a-minute! Was it? Could it be? Yes it was! It was her and Dev's child's seal of approval. It was their baby's first kick! She held her stomach, and began to weep loudly. Dev rushed in from the kitchen, and stood at the door of their study.
  "Babe, are you alright?" he asked.
  She looked up, and smiled a smile of ecstasy. Rising unselfconsciously, she ran up to him, and holding him like she would never let go, said, "Never better."  

(Co-authored with Nikhil Deshmukh  @red_devill22)