Review of Stephen King’s Big Driver
Stephen King is more renowned for grisly horror than cozy mystery but in his novella Big Driver (which is one of the four short stories that make up his 2010 compilation Full Dark, No Stars) he writes from the perspective of a mystery writer who is brutally attacked and the ways in which she draws on her writer’s imagination to help cope with her ordeal and plot her revenge.
The protagonist is Tessa Jean – a successful cozy mystery writer who occasionally attends guests speaking events. Taking a short cut back from one such event, Tess is kidnapped and raped by a truck driver who then attempts to murder her and hide her body in a culvert along with those of many other women he has killed over the years. What he doesn’t know is that Tess survives the ordeal and begins plotting her revenge against the monster who has done this to her – with a little help from the voices in her head, including those who appear in her own cozy mystery series.
Big Driver is a hugely character driven story and so it helps that Tess is a relatable character who the reader is rooting for almost immediately. King’s use of stream of conscious narrative really allows the reader to feel as though they are in her mind and after her attack and subsequent escape this works particularly well as she appears to be descending into madness. The trauma of what has happened to her is articulated brilliantly through the voices in Tess’s head including her cat, her Tom-Tom device and Doreen Marquis – a fictional character from her mystery series The Willow Grove Knitting Society. As the story continues and Tess starts to come to terms with what has happened to her, we see a shift in personality as she turns from a timid, modest and down to earth writer into a vigilante, out for justice and revenge through murderous means. Again, the way that King uses the voices in Tess’s head to reflect this change in character is clever – we see her slowly turning away from the reassurance and logical advice of Doreen Marquis as she begins to realize that what she has experienced isn’t like the neat, solvable dramas that she writes about in her own mystery series. It is as if she always had the tools to commit a perfect murder at her finger tips – after all she makes a living from writing about them. Because her cozy mystery series is about a group of old ladies, however, you cannot imagine that she would have the guts to carry such acts out. Here we see her stepping away from the Willow Grove Knitting Society and motivated by rage, fear of exposure and desperate need for revenge, she brings her knowledge of murder from the page into real life.
The crime which takes place in this novel is a sensitive and perhaps controversial topic but in true Stephen King style he doesn’t shy away from it and the reader is presented with a detailed and, at times, difficult account of what Tess experiences at the hands of her attacker. The reader is encouraged to feel her pain and understand the brutality that she has experienced through stark and graphic imagery and descriptions of the mental and physical anguish that she has gone through – from her physical injuries to the personal shame she feels and even her practical worries such as being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The flippant and, at times, jovial manner in which Big Driver carries out his depraved acts only goes to further reflect his monstrosity and works well at painting him as a sinister, evil rapist who deserves nothing less than what he has coming to him. There really is nothing like watching a true villain meet their match and this is an ultimate tale of revenge that is even in the early stages of being made into a movie.
Setting and location
King is a master at crafting a scene to create suspense and put the reader right there amongst the drama and this is especially important in stories such as Big Driver where the reader is encouraged to feel what the character feels. The disused shop where Tess’s ordeal is carried out is described in depth down to the faded petrol signs and tin 7UP sign creaking on the roof – all of which create a sense of isolation, abandonment and danger. Conversely her own home is depicted as a clean and safe environment where she is able to recover and recoup. Setting the scene and placing the reader among the drama in this way is what makes Big Driver such a terrifying yet thrilling novella to read.
Thanks to Claire Tolen for an awesome review of The Big Driver by Stephen King.