Monday, September 26, 2011

Everyday Madmen and Prejudices: My Review of "Under the Dome" by Stephen King

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a selectwoman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

                What a cover, right? And Stephen King! But it looked so heavy … Enter my Kobo reader and my Kobo account, and I bought Under the Dome for myself. The sad thing is, I didn’t start it until this past July, and I finished it the last weekend in August. Yeah, it’s a monster – a very heavy, dense monster. And it took me a while to get to the point where I could read past all the gore and sadness and appreciate the story, which is why this review is coming in so late.
                The illusion to the America is pretty heavy handed – the town’s citizenry represent the American populace (though the metaphor can be drawn out to include any nation, we will stick with this one, since due to King’s mentions of Iraq and such, that was his aim) and the dome represents the unseen, unquantifiable fear of The Other – that something is out there waiting to get us. Most of the town’s people – the Sheep, as Big Jim says – are content to lay all the responsibilities on the State and go about their daily lives, sure that the State will figure it all out. That happens to be why so many die.
                Under the Dome, in some ways, is like a zombie story. Alright, give me a moment to explain: the premise of a zombie story, usually, is containment and no escape from that containment (coupled with how much people suck). Even in those zombie movies where the characters are travelling around America in Hummers and killing zombies with vehicular doors – the point is that the fight is inevitably in favour of the undead, and there really s no escape. The menace at the door serves to give us something else to think about so we don’t have to hit this realization too quickly or too hard.
                I have been reading Stephen King since I was ten. Back then, I picked up my Mother’s copy of Salem’s Lot and climbed one of the big willows at the cottage, and poured over it – asides from the CTV Dracula and a handful of other movies and tv shows, this was my first real encounter with vampires. And King’s vampires were not the vampires I was accustomed to: smooth talking personas with good clothes, pale skin and morals – when all is said and done. No, King’s vampires were just … hungry. And his story was ultimately, sad. Up to this point, my foray into horror had been confined to Goosebumps, Dean Koontz books and whatever I happened to find on Television. Stephen king opened my eyes to the dystopia of everyday. After Salem’s Lot, I picked up Thinner, then the Tommyknockers, followed by The Shining and then The Green Mile. I inhaled these books and by the time I was about 14, I had only the Dark Tower series not yet read.
                Then I just seemed to stop reading Stephen King. Not really sure why, but I did. Then I was walking in the underground, on my way back from lunch last year, and saw this on the shelves at Coles (pretty sure the only Coles left):

                I don’t think I can do the story justice – it was a very good, but again, dense book. That being the case, I will try my best – and all comments are appreciated!

                Enter Stephen King. King has done zombies – The Cell – a great book, was all about some wacked out PCP-Zombies that would run around and commit acts of violence without reason. And that followed zombie lit pretty well. But for this one, King opted for the same feel of humanity being violent and evil for the most part, but stripped it of its metaphor by way of a dome.

                Oh yes, on a regular morning in Maine (it is always Maine with King) a see-through but not go-through dome closes around the little township of Chester Mills where it inexplicably causes death, mayhem and very good social commentary, with a side helping of destruction and big fat tears welling up in my eyes.

                So I don’t get bogged down, I will focus on one of the themes in the book – that is, the illusion of safety because everything seems legit. In the story, the town is run by its second selectman, Big Jim, and he is nothing but a bully who let power get to his head. To me, he is probably the most interesting character: most of the other “bad” guys in the story have some sort of excuse to be the way they are – brain tumours, lost loved ones, whatever. Big Jim just thinks that he is better than everyone else – and damn, he’s smart too. You know it wouldn’t be any fun if our bad guy was an idiot, right?

                The book was good, but it’s hard to pin down exactly why – it’s compelling, the character list is long, and it’s gory – but very long. Very, very long. The revolving door of characters and deaths pull at your hearts, and this doesn’t lessen by the end, with some substantial deaths and substantial tears. In all, the book was well worth the read, and a great addition to my library.

                Which means I will now have to go find a hard copy …

        And to leave you with an adaptation of sorts, who remembers this:

lol. Happy Monday!

Stephen King's Website:

Up next for Review: The Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon

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