Four Past Midnight was the second collection of these kinds of stories, published in 1990, although its four tales were either heavily supernatural or straight-out science fiction. Hearts in Atlantis was also a collection of shorter works, but they were connected by a similar cast of characters. In Full Dark, No Stars King returns to Different Seasons-style realism for four stories that center on some pretty dark corners of human experience. In an afterword, he says he did so because those were the stories that came to his mind when the inspiration struck, and so those are the stories he tells.
King also says he hopes that readers, even if they are turned off by different aspects of the four novellas in Full Dark, will be lead to think about them afterwords, and perhaps led to think about different issues they raise. He returns to a constant theme of his, that popular fiction can be just as useful for reflection on the human condition as so-called "literary fiction," and is pretty explicit that he doesn't so much intend readers to think a great deal while reading the story as much as they might afterwards.
He's certainly on-target with that first idea. An active mind can try to puzzle over issues of identity using Buzz Lightyear's self-discovery in Toy Story with some of the same effect as it might with Kafka's The Metamorphosis. One may prompt deeper reflections than the other, but they can both point the same way. And there's nothing wrong with his second thought either -- sometimes a story takes over as a story, and readers may not reflect on its layers of meaning until later.
But based on that second idea, Full Dark has problems (These thoughts may be a little spoiler-ish, so if that bothers you feel free to skip this entry for awhile). The one novella that seems to offer the most to think about -- "1922" -- also offers both a story and characters that I can't imagine wanting to spend time thinking about. Protagonist Wilf James is flat-out monstrous as well as deranged and is someone to whom I will bid farewell without a backward glance. King may have some interesting things to say about guilt and transgression with the story, but hanging out with Wilf and his castmates is like wearing burlap underwear in July -- whatever benefits may be derived from it aren't worth the discomfort of doing it more than once.
"Big Driver" is the story of a mystery writer whose use of a shortcut while traveling brings her misery, horror and a confrontation with how far she will go for vengeance and justice. But it seems to be missing too many pieces, making it airy and insubstantial, like a cloak woven from fog. As soon as a reader tries to pick it up to take a look at it or see how it fits, it dissipates and leaves nothing to really grasp. In "Fair Extension," King offers up a boiled-down version of Needful Things without the novel-ending mayhem but with another repellent lead character. Even though he flavors it with a dash of Thinner (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman), there's still little reason to read it instead of those earlier, better works. In "A Good Marriage," King says he wanted to demonstrate how even people who have been together for most of their lives might not truly know each other. Since that's exactly the way he wanted his story to turn out, it's no surprise that that's exactly the way it turns out. There's really very little more here to think about than there would be from reading accounts of the true-life situation on which King modeled the story (I'll be nice and not mention which true-life situation that is, in hopes of minimizing the spoiler quotient as much as possible).
King is much better when he writes briefly, and if the self-restraint of the shorter novella form can impose on him a discipline no editor attempts anymore to impose on his novels, bravo for his choice to write some more of these shorter works. Except for "Big Driver," which probably needs either some expansion to hold together as a work meriting reflection or major cuts to be a simple read-em-and-move-on tale, the stories of Full Dark are tighter and more focused narratives than the lion's share of King's longer post-1990 stuff. But based on King's own stated desire to offer something to think about later even if you don't think about it while reading, Full Dark is the the foul tip of "1922," the wild pitch of "Fair Extension" and the two whiffs at the plate of "Big Driver" and "A Good Marriage." It's not an awful at-bat, but it's still an out.