Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King

What struck me as I read Under the Dome is that the book is Lord of the Flies under glass. The fact that the main characters are adults does not detract from that comparison as the people of Chester's Mills are cut off from the rest of the world and left to their own devices. In that sense, Stephen King has imagined a rich and dark world where few people are untouched by the evil that men do -- or are the very essence of the evil that men do in the name of order and control.

The book rises like a rocket with clear intent and a purpose. The purpose is destruction and death, both of which follow in true Stephen King fashion like bloody fireworks. What follows is a close look at the thoughts and actions of the leaders of this small community and the animosity of the many against the few. as in all small town, the stranger, or newcomer, takes the brunt of all that violence and venom, which in this case is ex-Army lieutenant, Dale Barbara, also knows as Barbie. The inevitable connection with Ken follows later and becomes as irritating to the reader as it is to Barbie.

There is the owner of the newspaper, Julia Shumway, third generation reporter and publisher, the sheriff, Howard "Duke" Perkins and his loving wife, the richest man in town, second Selectman, Jim Rennie, and a cast of characters drawn from any small town in the world. There is abuse of power, needless death, murder, the strong preying on the weak, and the meek inheriting the scorched earth. There is a town drunk and a smiling and hapless first Selectman, and the token woman on the town Council, Third Selectman, Andrea Grinnell, the owner of the restaurant, Rose of Sweetbriar Rose, and adorable children, some of whom are intrepid explorers with the brains to figure out what is going on. The characters, as in all King's longer works, are legion and their parts, however small, are detailed in King-wise fashion.

The biggest problem I see with the story is that after that spectacular rocket shot to the outer rings of Saturn, the middle of the book drags and sags, pulling down any forward momentum and becoming a bit tedious. It isn't that the details are fascinating, but the feeling of "Are we there yet?" becomes pervasive. It took me a while to figure out why that is until last night, as I jotted down some notes, I figured it out. King uses seizures with visions and dreams -- another familiar King device -- to let the reader know what is coming and he gives out the ending far too soon and far too often until the "are we there yet?" mantra is sung often and often in whining frustration.

Let's get on with it already. Yes, the descriptions are wonderful and the characters complex, but can we skip to the end NOW? When I figured in that most of the action occurs in the matter of three or four days, the urge to get it over with became almost imperative. When I think that the series will cover a month instead of a week, I'm a little less anxious to see the series, no matter what changes have been made in King's original story.

When the top of the hill is reached, the rest of the story is like the roller coaster screaming down the steep hill and through the turns without too much drag on the moment. There is a bit of drag, more of the "are we there YET?" but the ending is reached and the death toll is high. In King's books, death comes to all: high and low, good and bad, smart and dumb. Some of the deaths are handed out with justice and a sense of satisfaction that the evil is dead, but so are a lot of good people, which underlines the fact that when natures goes awry, death is no respecter of persons. Many will die; few will live on to tell the tale.

I won't give the ending away, but I found the reason for the dome at once interesting and a bit too pat. Bringing the dome down is characteristic of most of King's more recent books and I find that telling. A brush with death, such as King had, definitely changes the viewpoint and the heart. Somewhere I think the heart of a little boy King once kept on his desk has been given a decent burial.

As good as some part of Under the Dome are, it is a mediocre book overall. Flash bang beginning, slough of despond in the too long middle, and a moderately satisfying ending with a very high body count. Still, it is worth reading for all that and there are some very funny spots in King's characteristic brand of humor.

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