I had already read the Stephen King story "Big Driver", so when I learned it was included with three others of similar vein in Full Dark, No Stars, I knew what I was getting into. The grim tale of a competent, confident woman caught alone on a side road by a rapist was a fair indicator that these would not be tales of monsters living in sewers or embodied in cars.
The monsters in these tales are far more grim and frightening, for they lie hidden beneath the skin of the doting father, the good Samaritan, the best friend, the loving husband.
A common thread weaves through the stories in this collection. Faced with overwhelming stress, fear and pain, or imminent death, each of the main characters makes a dire choice. Choices have consequences, always; what each chooses will define them from then onward.
In "1922", a farmer's choice is driven by a desire to keep a local hog butcher's poisonous spillage out of his stream. What he chooses will poison his home life, his son's spirit, and ultimately, his grandchild's life as well.
In "Big Driver", the urge to return home in time to feed her cat leads the author and public speaker off the beaten path of benign competence and into the darker paths of vengeance.
"Fair Extension" is both the lightest and the darkest tale in the collection. Harry is dying of cancer when he makes his deal with the devil. What he gets in exchange is not the typical "sup with a long spoon" outcome of such bargains. To say more would spoil the story, but I enjoyed reading it. It made me very uncomfortable with my own pleasure at how things worked out for Harry!
The final tale, "A Good Marriage", is the cherry in this dark sundae.
Speaking about his writing (even while wryly observing that we should "never trust anything a fiction writer says about himself"), King says he feels that "the best fiction [is] both propulsive and assaultive. It gets in your face. Sometimes it shouts in your face... as both a reader and a writer, I'm much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations."
In "A Good Marriage", the main character is living an ordinary life, but how she handles her extraordinary situation reveals that she herself is anything but ordinary. And in retrospect, the same is true of each of the other stories. Faced with an overwhelming crisis, some people crumble, some overcome it.
All are changed by their passage through the dark time.