Guilt is a terrible emotion. Even when it’s over something so innocuous as a forgotten ‘thank you,’ guilt has a way of boring into your brain and gnawing away. It creates a downhill paranoia, nagging at you as you push against it and try to force it up and out of your head.
It’s exhausting. And, if it can be so all consuming over something so small, imagine what it could do to your psyche if you’ve murdered a loved one.
This is a battle Stephen King reckons with in 1922, a novella published in 2010’s Full Dark, No Stars. Our narrator, Wilfred James, is writing a confession. In 1922, he and his son murdered his wife after arguments over a patch of land abutting their farm. Arlette James, who had been willed the land by her father, wanted to sell it. Wilfred and his son did not, so they killed her.
However, if you ask Wilfred, she didn’t stay dead, and burying her in a well teeming with rats hasn’t been able to keep her away. She’s haunting him, and she’s bringing the rats with her.
Stark, bleak and miserable (in a good way), 1922 studies the effects of guilt on fragile minds. The burden of his mother’s murder destroys the fragile psyche of Wilfred’s teenage son Henry, snuffing out the buoyant flame of his youth. But, the effect is far worse in Wilfred, as gruesome delusions of his decaying wife and the carnivorous rats he buried her with drive him to paranoid madness.
In the afterword to Full Dark, No Stars, King admits that the stories contained within are harsh. 1922 is no exception, but that shouldn’t keep you from tensely turning its 133 pages as Wilfred and Henry James slowly snap under the weight of Arlette’s gruesome death. Be warned, however. Guilt can be contagious. I’d recommend clearing your conscience before reading.
Trey Wydysh is The Geekiverse’s resident Stephen King superfan. You can find all of our 31 Days Of Stephen King posts here. Got a King question? Looking for a recommendation? Feel free to ask Trey on Twitter.
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