The Dark Half by Stephen King
George Stark. Not a very nice guy. This is the tagline for King’s 1989 classic horror tale about a novelist and his uber-violent alter-ego. We can only hope that the premise of The Dark Half is not entirely auto-biographical.
It begins with headaches suffered by 11 years old Thad Beaumont, an aspiring young writer with an asshole for a father. Thad is forced to undergo brain surgery as Dr Pritchard discovers an abnormal growth on the boy’s pre-frontal lobe. And abnormal it certainly is.
The good doctor finds, much to his professional delight, that Thad is a twin who has ‘consumed’ his weaker sibling whilst still at the foetal stage. He didn’t actually eat his brother as he had no teeth to do this with. No, he absorbed the unfortunate sibling. Strangely though, the lost twin didn’t disappear entirely. Part of the other boy remained in Thad’s head, in more ways than one.
Puberty is medically accepted as the catalyst for the growth spurt of the remains of Thad’s twin, hence the headaches. The surgery is successful. The squatter is removed (an eye, some teeth and fingernails) and Thad recovers fully. Lovely story to tell your first girlfriend. Sure to get you laid.
Fast-forward a few decades, and Thad is now a successful novelist in his fifties with a loving wife and twins of his own. He is oblivious to what exactly was removed from his head as Pritchard saw no need to freak him or his family out. The twins link is therefore unknown.
Thad’s novels come in two varieties, those he writes under his own name and those he pens under the pseudonym of George Stark. His own efforts, whilst critically acclaimed, are not financially successful. Stark’s novels, however, are best-selling gore-fests. Thad is unhappy with his life as a result. Most authors would be f**king delighted with any success, so Thad’s discomfort could only come with financial security. The bills have to be paid, baby, whether you like yourself or not.
When writing the bloody epics of Stark, mild mannered Thad partly assumes the persona of the man George Stark is meant to be. He’s not a very nice guy. Thad’s wife, Liz, doesn’t much care for Stark or her husband’s dalliance with this character. The tough conversation is had and the decision is made to do away with George Stark for the sake of the family, marriage and Thad’s mental health.
Husband and wife decide that the best way to achieve this is by going public about who is really behind George Stark. A mock burial is held with Thad and Liz throwing soil onto a fake gravestone of Stark. But the violent and psychopathic scribe doesn’t want to die.
Events take a turn for the worse when the horror that is George Stark literally rises from the grave to begin a killing spree of all who played a role in his intended death. He moves like a stank hot knife through flaccid human butter, cutting and chopping and ending all who stood in his path of continuing existence. The police suspect Thad, at first, as DNA indicates that he must be the killer. But Thad has rock-solid alibis as well as eye-witnesses who see the killer-maniac and survive to talk about it. Thad is in the clear, kinda. As the stories come in, it is Thad who first recognizes the MO of the lunatic and comes to realize that, somehow, George Stark has come to life.
As the cops struggle frantically to protect Thad and his family, all those who helped Stark to his well publicized fake demise meet a sorry end. Georgey-boy appears to be unstoppable. But George has a major problem that the cops haven’t yet noticed. He is disintegrating. As each day passes, Stark’s large body begins to fall to pieces even as his supernatural strength remains the same.
Stark needs to write to give substance to his existence. He tries but can’t. Only Thad can unblock Stark’s mind to help him become the novelist in his independence that he was when he lived in Thad. But does this mean that for Stark to permanently exist, Thad must die? It might be a tad like Highlander, in which ‘There can be only one’.
The Dark Half is typical King in that it takes an inconceivable plot and weaves it into a plausible story-line. King’s settings are always excellent and this is no different. His characters rarely lack consistency. His pace is solid and moves with the reader’s heartbeat. And his stories, although fantastical, are gripping. The Dark Half does not disappoint.
Thad battles against aspects of his own character as he fights Stark. It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the modern age. It does raise the question of how certain novelists employ alter-egos when writing, and how fully such personalities might become split. Intense actors might go through the same process. Perhaps The Dark Half, which we might hope does not contain too much of Stephen King in George Stark, reveals a little of what lurks in King’s mind. Such insight can be pretty interesting for fans, of which Rebel Voice is but one.
As events in The Dark Half rush forward in an increasingly bloody and terrifying wave of destruction, the inevitable final battle must be between Thad and George, as everyone else takes the role of horrified spectator. The conclusion is excellent in this. King avoids the schmaltz that others might have embraced. There is a satisfaction in the ending.
Although not one of his earliest novels, we can see how The Dark Half is penned in a style that is strongly associated with King. The percentages are in balance as we race through the turbulent life of Thad Beaumont. It does appear as if Stephen King started out as he meant to go on, and Rebel Voice for one is extremely glad of that. King is a master.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Recommended for those who are not too squeamish. It will also be of interest to writers, aspiring or otherwise. Perhaps a George Stark lurks in all of us. Rebel Voice is speaking to you, Danielle Steel.