A Good Marriage (Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King

Marriage is one of those relationships that, if you’ve never had one, is likely impossible to understand. Having never been married myself, I’d tend to agree. From an outside viewpoint and from witnessing the many marriages within my own family and circle of friends, it seems to create both a seemingly unbreakable bond and a sense of habit that almost can be terrifyingly mundane at times. In this novella by the King himself, the trope of marriage is explored in a rather horrifying way. A Good Marriage , one of four novellas in the book Full Dark, No Stars, tells the story of Darcy Anderson, married 27 years to Bob, an accountant. They have a placid, rather staid marriage – a good marriage, she thinks. Until she discovers that Bob has an entire other life involving stalking, torturing and murdering young women, and her ironclad belief in the normalcy and goodness of her marriage disappears instantly.

Where King’s genius comes through is in describing the unthinkable dilemma Darcy finds herself in once she learns of Bob’s atrocities. She is still his wife, she still loves him, and most importantly they’ve built a life together in which they are parents and business partners. She understands instantly that the press will destroy all of their lives, including their children’s lives. She is torn, both because she wants so desperately to believe that Bob will never do it again (though she knows in her heart that he will) and also because she doesn’t want to bring this onto her children.

Anyone who has been in a relationship understands the concept of finding out your partner is not someone you thought they were, a total stranger. Hell, Billy Joel wrote a song about that concept. Bruce Springsteen wrote one of my favorite songs on the topic of questioning who your lover is and doubting your own self when you learn who they really are. One of the most terrifying things to realize is that the person around whom you built your life, the person that you would swear you know everything about….is someone you not only don’t know but that you come to loathe and fear. One of the other disturbing aspects of finding out someone you love is a stranger in many ways is that it makes you question yourself as well, your faith in that person ,whether loving them makes you just as bad in your own way, and your own judgement. Love is a complex emotion already, and to add doubt and fear to the mix seems absolutely overwhelming.

The short story was made into a film starring Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia, which was incredibly well done. Both actors inhabit their characters in a real and honest way, depicting both the mundane, everyday nature of a long-term “good marriage” and the horror of learning that the person sleeping next to you is as much a stranger as a person walking down the street in another town. The film follows the story very closely, with a couple of small twists and deviations, but the depiction of the marital bond and breakdown is done with grace, sadness and some very intense fearful moments.

King based the character of Bob Anderson on the real-life BTK killer Dennis Rader, who bound, tortured and killed ten people between 1974 and 1991, and Darcy Anderson is based on Rader’s wife Paula, who claimed ignorance about her husband’s horrific double life. I liked that King wanted to explore that shadowy side of marriage and the question of whether or not we truly ever do know someone. My opinion is that yes, it is entirely possible to love someone and live with them and not realize that they have a shadow side, though I also think the fact that we, as human beings, are quite self-focused most of the time and so it’s easy to immerse ourselves in our own dramas and overlook possible clues about another person’s behavior. Again, never having been married, I can’t state this with certainty but I’ve had my share of relationships and I can vouch for the fact that it is easy to not see the full picture, even when (or perhaps especially when) you think you know that person inside and out, warts and all.

Toward the end of the story, Darcy decides that Bob will in all likelihood start killing again. He simply cannot stop. Unfortunately, at this point she’ll be considered an accessory since time has passed since she found out about the murders. She’s spent so much time trying to figure out how she will live the rest of her life knowing that Bob is this evil, depraved killer and I think once her eyes were fully open as to who he was, she knew that he would never change. So one evening after a celebratory dinner during which Bob gets intoxicated, they go home and Darcy makes him think she is ready to make love. As he brings her a glass of mineral water upstairs, she pushes him down the stairs. It’s during this celebratory dinner that I was inspired to make champagne crème brûlée, based on this passage:

Inside the house he whirled his sport coat onto the tree by the door and pulled her into his arms for a long kiss. She could taste champagne and sweet crème brûlée on his breath. It was not a bad combination, although she knew if things happened as they might, she would never want either again.

5 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 and 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, plus 4 tablespoons
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1⁄2 cup champagne

Preheat oven to 300F, and in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the whole egg, the heavy cream, the sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and champagne. Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of bubbly while you’re putting this together.

Divide evenly into 4 ramekins.

Place ramekins in a 9×13 baking dish and fill dish up to the middle of the ramekins with boiling water. Transfer to the oven and bake until custards set but still have that sexy wobble in the center, around 35 minutes.

Remove ramekins from baking dish and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, or at very least up to 3 hours.

Right before serving, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the top of each custard and light your blowtorch, aiming it AWAY from you. Use the torch to brown the top of each custard until it’s glassy and golden brown. Be careful not to singe off your eyebrows and eyelashes, as I did the first time I ever used a blowtorch in the kitchen.

Et voila! Serve with another glass of champagne and toast to not being married to a monster!

16 thoughts on “A Good Marriage (Full Dark, No Stars) by Stephen King

  1. Yes, myself kind of a slob when it come to clean, and be neat, at home, altough, all my exes where pretty neat householders.
    At least I pay a woman to come and tide up my place one day a week. 🤫😏😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mother, and other women had tell me: “Most men are pretty basic, sex, food, a clean, and neat house, its enough. Women we are more complex, and we can detect bullshit, a mile away! 😏😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nah, I just think the author subesestimate women skills, as my Mother used to tell me, when you guys start going, we women are already back!🤔🙄

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hum…Hard to imagine you are married to a serial killer, and you do not know about it!
    When my three exwives seemed to know what I was thinking, at any moment!😏😲🤫

    Liked by 1 person

  5. …maybe oddly… creme brulee might be one of the best, if not the best, foods to indulge in fully, from the coolness outside to the scent to the light crunch-crack to sliding the spoon through and into to bringing it slowly up and into your mouth, letting the light crack of sugar quickly amalgamete into a lush creaminess… after pushing a… mistake, down the stairs. A sort of just dessert….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think incorporating champagne into a crème brûlée also adds that necessary celebratory note which would be required after getting rid of a vicious serial killer spouse. I agree about the luscious texture as well. To me, and I am a foodie but not a pretentious one, there is something so ideal about a simple vanilla custard. It is perfection unto itself. It is not trying to be anything than what it is. It is the ideal vehicle for fruit, for chocolate, for cinnamon. It is simple, yet beautiful, and of course that rich flavor gliding across your tongue and sparking your taste buds…….what could be better? And then you add the glassy, crackling texture of the burnt sugar on top. It’s the perfect dessert, most assuredly. Best eaten in bed with your lover, in my opinion.


    1. Well I am very partial to Stephen King so I think pretty much anything he writes is terrific. This was quite a hair-raising short story. If you get a chance to read it or watch the movie, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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