Rest in peace, Richard Bachman. He passed away tragically in 1985 by a “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia”.
Perhaps, after reading The Dark Half, Stephen King had more involvement in Richard’s passing than we first thought.
It’s relatively well known that for some time in the 80’s, King was writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He published great – and sometimes controversial – novels such as Rage, The Running Man, and Thinner. After the alternate pen-name was outed, King had to put Richard to rest.
It’s crystal clear where King found inspiration for The Dark Half, then. He lived the premise himself – although hopefully not the chilling paranormal elements. In this novel, we find a clumsy yet well meaning author, Thad Beaumont, trying to readjust his life after putting his pseudonym, George Stark, to rest. He and his wife even agreed to a theatrical burial, with a fake tombstone, for an article in People magazine. Thad was outed as Stark by a “creepazoid”, but he didn’t mind terribly much. It was a relief to him and his wife, since although Stark’s run of books was much more successful, the tone was much darker, and Thad became a different, colder man when writing as Stark.
As is King fashion, things put to rest never stay that way. In this case, even something which arguably didn’t exist in the first place – a pseudonym – comes back to haunt Thad, and hunts down those that contributed to his “death”.
There are some incredible moments of tension here with Stark. A cold-blooded killer with nothing to lose, he performed some chilling actions. Posing as a blind man to execute two cops and a victim. Wielding his straight razor as if it’s his talisman, slicing at innocent throats. In particular, when Stark is coddling a baby and tickling it with the muzzle of his loaded gun to intimidate the baby’s parents – horrific images come to mind of worst case scenarios.
Some themes, while initially difficult to make connections with the overall novel, come together nicely. What do the sparrows mean? What is the significance of Thad’s childhood surgery? Why do his baby twins act in sync at times? These concepts do tie in together quite nicely at the end. Although King tried to play on the theme of non-acceptance of paranormal events, I felt that the incremental leaps of faith were too large. If you’re dead-set against things that can’t be explained, why allow yourself to follow the thread, assuming they are right?
Regardless, a great thriller, even if it is yet another notch in the “King protagonist is a struggling author” trope. You know what they say; write what you know.