Lisey’s Story may be King’s most autobiographical novel, but I have to believe that Duma Key is at least up there. Sure, Edgar is an artist and not a writer, but he’s also recovering from a truly horrendous batch of vehicle accident injuries. And using his art to do it. Anyone who’s read King’s post-accident writing and his description of positioning himself to write longhand because sitting at the computer or typewriter hurt too much and apparently, not writing also hurt too much, will see the parallels.
In my other life, I was a Certified Nurse Assistant. That gives me no legitimate medical expertise, but it does give me some experience with various types of amputees and accident victims, and Edgar’s struggles, his anger, and his isolation from friends and family all strike me as realistic possible outcomes for someone recovering from this kind of injury. I have to think King was channeling his own experiences to some extent here.
“My other life”, by the way, is a thing that the Duma Key-based characters of Duma Key keep saying. In Edgar’s other life, he owned and operated a construction company. In Wireman’s other life, he was a regular lawyer. In Elizabeth’s other life before Alzheimer’s, she was a patron of the arts — but in her other life before that, she was an artist inspired by a possessed doll. And in her other life before that, she was a normal little girl. She had a lot of other lives.
Basically, Edgar sustains these grievous injuries. He begins to heal physically, but his marriage dissolves — he and other characters direct a lot of anger at his wife for this, but I think I get her, and Edgar seems to as well, by the end. Edgar is at least borderline suicidal, but his doctor tells him to at least wait because right now, it’s not going to look like an accident no matter what he does and his family won’t see death benefits. Instead, he opts for a geographical cure… from Minnesota to Duma Key, Florida.
There he discovers a heretofore unknown talent for drawing and painting. He befriends Wireman, a former lawyer who is now caretaking Elizabeth, a rich older lady known for being a patron of the arts and for owning at least the part of Duma Key they’re all on. In due time, he also discovers his drawings and paintings have power. He can paint things that he shouldn’t know. He can paint a random pedophile without a nose and mouth, killing him. He can paint Wireman’s brain without the bullet still lodged in his brain and just remove it, and he can paint Wireman’s portrait and restore the man’s missing vision. Also, he’s kind of giving that possessed doll an opening to come back and cause mayhem.
He gets warnings about this from Elizabeth — somewhat garbled because of her age and diagnosis (wonder what would have happened if he’d tried to paint her without Alzheimer’s?) — but between her and the creepy shit happening, he does finally get it mostly figured out. Right around the time, he gets his first (and last) major and highly successful art showing at a swanky gallery in the Sarasota area. He’s a little too late, though. His accountant, his doctor, a Miami art critic, and his younger daughter all end up dead before he has time to put an end to the Doll of Danger. It’s pretty rough. The rest of them could be gotten over, but it’s pretty clear that losing the daughter is a game-changer. Edgar is not going to really be OK again, or not for quite a while. And his ex-wife will probably never forgive him. He didn’t kill his daughter or wish her dead and his lack of anticipation is understandable — but it’s still sort of his fault anyway.
Edgar, his friend Wireman, and his… helper? Errand boy? Youthful sidekick? Jake do team up and put a stop to the Danger Doll before she can do much more damage. Her name is actually Perse, and she can be drowned in freshwater (but thrives in saltwater). So they ultimately trap her in a freshwater-filled flashlight, encase the flashlight in a freshwater-filled container made of silver, and down that in water as well. The whole deal is more dramatic than that, but that’s the resolution. Most of it anyway. The rest involves Edgar drawing Duma Key out of existence by conjuring a brutal tropical storm and going to meet up with Wireman in the Mexican town he’s relocated to. Unfortunately, Wireman dies before Edgar gets there. Imagine Red finally catching up to where Andy Dufresne fled to, but Andy’s kicked it. It’s sadder than it has any right to be.
The end is a rush, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat, but for my money, the actual most exciting and moving parts have to do with Edgar’s paintings and what they turn out to show and do. I’m not much into paintings or drawings myself, but I think of the way a story can channel hope, fear, wonder, sadness, etc, and I understand how people who are able to pick up those emotions in pictures feel. Like I said, I feel pretty certain he’s channeling his own experience here.
Somehow there’s no Duma Key movie, which is weird because this seems visual enough to be easily adaptable. Wikipedia says there was one in development, but it stalled. I don’t always read a book and think “I hope I get to see a movie of this,” but this one, I do.
By the way, there are a few things here that seem like connections to me. Edgar talks about there being no more rooms to explore in his life — but there are doors. Which makes me think Dark Tower. He also talks about Wireman’s healed eye “seeing me very well,” which may mean nothing, but… again, Dark Towerish language there. And there’s also a mention of Edgar’s daughter hearing Perse’s voice from drains and toilets, which will sound familiar to anyone who’s read It. I don’t know what kind of monster Perse really is, but these things make me think that she’s a monster from another level of the tower who is perhaps from the same family tree as Pennywise? Or perhaps just from the same hometown?
Also, we’ve got a while before we get to Billy Summers, but I would like to point out that most of the Trump references in that book were just passing conversation. In this book, the narrator flatly says the answer to how we stumbled into the Iraq war had a W. for a middle initial and a dick for a Vice President. Which is way harsher than the Billy Summers Trump comments. This is who King is, and was since long before Trump (I think there’s another fairly harsh dick and a bush comment coming up in a future book) and I don’t know what people keep insisting on complaining about. He has not changed in this respect.