Stephen King's "Duma Key" was first published in 2008. In a departure from King's earlier oeuvre, which opted for intense inventories of slasher-style acts depicted in graphic detail, "Duma key" delivers mounting psychological horror. King relishes his trademark winding narrative, patiently scattering pointers and imagery that will appear again at the denouement, horribly altered. Sadly, because of the name on the cover, the audience understands this is so and -- despite the deft subtlety of his seeding -- patrols the reading experience looking for clues. Something tattered and reeking of decay will be a big part of the product, and we all know it. Spoiler warning: This synopsis discusses the ending of "Duma Key" in some detail.
Staging "Duma Key"
King sets most of his work in his native Maine -- "Duma Key" is his first to be staged primarily in Florida. In fact, the author owns a home at 24 North Casey Key Road in Osprey, Fla., where he resides through most winters. Without question, Casey Key and the uninhabited barrier islands in the Sarasota Gulf area influenced the imagery of this work. Another crossover: King was almost killed by a drunk driver in 1999, and the protagonist in "Duma Key" -- Edgar Freemantle, who narrates the story -- suffered a similar incident. He was an extremely successful construction magnate in Minneapolis until an on-site accident, in which he sustained severe head injury and lost his right arm. Aside from patchy memory loss and speech and vision problems, the head injuries cause Freemantle to have violent mood swings and fits of rage; these eventually cause his marriage to break down
Set-Up of the Protagonists
Following these twin traumas, and on the advice of his psychologist, Freemantle removes himself from the environment in which his whole life has collapsed, beginning what he plans as a year-long sabbatical. He rents a house -- he calls it Big Pink -- on Duma Key, an all-but-uninhabited barrier island off the Florida Gulf Coast near Sarasota. He is assisted in his move by a young man named Jack Cantori, and eventually meets a full-time caregiver living in the house next door named Jerome Wireman. These two fully-realized supporting characters go on to share most of Freemantle's experiences and revelations.
First Inklings That All Is Not Well
Freemantle rediscovers an old hobby: he begins to sketch. Sketches become drawings, drawings become paintings, the quality improves exponentially and the hobby turns into an obsession. Phantom sensations in his absent arm drive him to distraction, and while thus disturbed he paints in a trance-like state; the images are of real-world events he should have no knowledge of.
Freemantle's much-loved daughter, Ilse, comes to visit him at Big Pink. While out for a drive they venture into the densely vegetated and unoccupied southern end of Duma Key, where both experience apparently baseless sensations of terror and nausea. A telephone call later describes the Key as having "never been a lucky place for daughters." The call is an eerie surprise, having been made by Elizabeth Eastlake -- Wireman's charge, once the Grande Dame of both the island and the art scene in Sarasota -- who is otherwise incoherent, enduring the terminal stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Curiouser and Curiouser
Freemantle takes ever-longer curative walks along the beach each day, and eventually makes it as far as the Eastlake residence. There he meets Wireman, who -- with Cantori -- is later instrumental in persuading Freemantle to exhibit some of his paintings. In the process of arranging this, Freemantle realizes the works have supernatural powers; ghosts are acting on the living through the canvases. Aside from his subject matter sometimes showing him things he should have no knowledge of, Freemantle finds he can also manipulate future events by painting what he wishes would occur. He uses the power to both aid his friends and punish those he disapproves of, and in doing so opens himself up to the influence of whatever is haunting the Key.
The Last Third of the Book
Eastlake makes a cogent appearance at the art exhibition, but is spurred by the subject matter to try explaining to Freemantle why Duma is dangerous. She becomes increasingly distressed, suffers a seizure and passes away. By this stage the power stockpiled in the paintings has become overwhelming, stored as they are all in one place: Big Pink. The power has been able to summon into the real world emissaries of the creature that possesses the overgrown end of Duma Key. Living persons who bought paintings at the exhibition come under their influence, and Freemantle's beloved daughter is killed by one.
King Explains What Is Behind the Events
Freemantle discovers that a ship that appears in the background of all of his paintings also appeared in drawings done by the young Eastlake many decades before; she, too, had suffered a head injury immediately before beginning to paint. Eastlake had fallen foul of the entity in the ship, which killed her younger twin sisters as a display of power. Nonetheless, the young Eastlake had discovered that the entity, named Persephone or Perse, was imprisoned inside a small figurine; a woman in a red cowl. With the help of her nanny, Eastlake had rendered Perse powerless by locking the figurine in a cask immersed in fresh water.
The End of the Book (Spoiler Warning)
Since then, the entity has been held in a cistern beneath a huge mansion, Eastlake's childhood home, deep in the overgrown part of the Key. Freemantle comes to understand that the prison is weakening as the house decays; that the entity is again able to exert its will over the living, and has been doing so through his paintings. He, Wireman and Cantori break up the collection, then go toe-to-toe with Perse inside what remains of the manse. They manage to re-inter the entity, trapping the figurine inside a flashlight filled with fresh water. Freemantle later drops the impromptu prison into a deep ocean rift, where he hopes Perse will remain forever unable to affect the living.
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