Friday, February 22, 2008

The Dialectic of Opera

Thesis.  Antithesis.  Tinnitus.

Feeling in a playful mood today.  Tuesday and Wednesday were DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL in which heavy depression and anxiety dogged my every footfall.  Can only speculate the cause.  Tomorrow I turn 50. 

I've been reading Duma Key by Stephen King and I'm enjoying it.  Like all of King's work in the past 15 years it suffers from prolixity, but the mood is involving, the setting is different for him, and his characters are interesting. 

However, in this case the story is very thin.  That was the case with The Cell, too.  I'm sufficiently engaged in the characters to keep reading, but very little has happened.  The high points:  Edgar Freemantle is involved in a life-altering, catastrophic accident that results in amputation of his right arm and neurological deficits (injury to Broca's area).  His erratic behavior  leads to divorce, but his children are grown and they support him.  He retires to Duma Key on Florida's gulf coast in order to rest, recuperate and heal his heart, mind and body.  But then his phantom limb begins to tingle.  At first, Edgar's forays into drawing and painting seem like precognition.  As time goes by, however, his artwork seems to actually be affecting reality. 

Like all of King's work in the past few years, this too is derivative.  The only thing original here are King's characters.  The gimmick of the paintings affecting reality is identical to an episode of the X-Files in Season 9 titled "Scary Monsters."  But the idea of art affecting reality is older than that.  King compares one of the art dealers that visit Edgar as "Dorian Gray."  So apparently he was completely cognizant of his plot pilfering.  Plot pilfering is completely fine, as long as you spin it somehow, and King uses his characters to that end.  It's going to be different this time because the characters are so unique.  That's King's strength, always has been.

However, when the story no longer supports the number of words it takes to tell it, there's a problem.  This is a problem with Duma Key.  While King is always careful to give the reader sensory details, nice humorous touches, disturbing emotion and feelings, terrific reactions, etc., when that no longer propels the action of the story forward, the prose feels stagnant.  That's what happens here.  Too much description of too much minutiae.  All of it is told with active, vibrant prose, but by describing everything in minute detail, the reader loses touch with what's really important. 

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