Harvey’s Dream by Stephen King, 2003
The magic trick:
Keeping the reader inside the wife’s head, separated from the obliviousness of Harvey
This is our second Stephen King story on SSMT – following “Premium Harmony” – in which the main characters spend most of the story being bored by the normalcy of their lives only to be rocked by events that shatter that relative calm. Another close relative is Vladimir Nabokov’s “Symbols And Signs.” Both stories share a frightening sense of fatalism, a look back across a family life equal parts boring and tragic, and, most notably, both end with an ominous phone call. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that King wrote this as a kind of homage to the Nabokov classic.
Anyway, that’s not to say that this is mere pastiche. The story works on some different levels from “Symbols And Signs.” King, as always, is very good with details, quickly and easily expanding our view of the characters with his usual mix of mild anger and crude comedy. The most important element is the contrast between Harvey’s awareness level and that of his wife.
We get the story from Mrs. Stevens’ point of view, so we are aware from the start of all the tiny ways she is annoyed by her husband. He, as far as we know, is oblivious to his crimes. The chasm between their perceptions is funny at first. It becomes frightening as the story develops. We see Mrs. Stevens painfully aware of the fatalistic nature of her husband’s dream. Harvey, meanwhile, is not putting the picture together. Somehow his ignorance makes the unfolding story and its tragic inevitability all the more terrifying.
OK, so it’s not on the level of “Symbols And Signs,” but the tactic is a very neat way to drive tension. And that’s quite a trick on King’s part.
The idea that Harvey has also seen this comes to her, that he is goofing with her for some strange reason of his own. Certainly it’s possible; the guest room where he sleeps on summer nights has an angle on the street. Only Harvey isn’t that sort of man. “Goofing” is not Harvey Stevens’s “thing.”
There is sweat on her cheeks and brow and neck, she can feel it, and her heart is beating faster than ever. There really is a sense of something looming, and why should this be happening now? Now, when the world is quiet, when prospects are tranquil? If I asked for this, I’m sorry, she thinks . . . or maybe she’s actually praying. Take it back, please take it back.