By Carl Begai
I was recently taken to task by a couple diehard Stephen King fans for this blog offering my compliments for Under The Dome, given the brush off for “damning him with faint praise” because my tongue didn’t take up residence in King’s ass. With that in mind I’ve decided to weigh in on his “little” epic, which turned out to be a satisfying read despite the widespread slamming he’s received for it.
Yes, I know I’m a bit late considering the book was published in 2009, but if you don’t like it there’s the door ————————>
The basic premise of the story (click here here for a synopsis that ruins the end for you) is classic science fiction:
— small town Somewheresville (in this case, Chester’s Mill) is cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field, dubbed The Dome.
— things go from peculiar to bad to worse for the folks on the inside.
— you’re in a Stephen King story; karma’s a bitch.
As Stephen King books go, Under The Dome has moments reminiscent of Needful Things and It, but it isn’t and will never be considered one of his best works by his legion of Constant Readers. Everything from the sheer bulk of it (1,000+ pages), to lack of character depth, to King’s in-your-face views on religion and the Obama administration have been cited as reasons why Under The Dome fails to live up to expected high quality King-ship. Then there’s the end of the story, which has left some folks screaming “foul” for being too empty, too quick, too Hollywood…
Bah. Getting there was half the fun.
In all fairness, the criticism heaped on Under The Dome is understandable. The page count is daunting if you’re used to reading books that rarely hit the 500 mark, as is keeping track of the cast of characters (additional fingers and toes of your nearest neighbor are required to keep an accurate head count). King’s potshots at the church and related religious ilk are numerous, and the big bang outro has all the earmarks of a Roland Emmerich wet dream. If, however, you’re willing to treat the story as a bit of morbid sucks-to-be-them entertainment instead of an exercise in benchmarking, Under The Dome is a solid read.
It’s clear from the outset that King is bent on having a fun with the unsuspecting Chester’s Mill populace. His writer’s voice is the hook, keeping things light all the way through, even when describing various methods of dispatching folks and assorted critters to the great beyond, the twisted baddie Rennie’s warped state of mind, or the joys of necrophelia. And although it may sound like a Hellraiser gore fest, Under The Dome is in fact a psychological “What if?” horror story that offers up some terrifyingly plausible scenarios with regards to the (in)human condition. Sure, King tries to get away with blowing science fact all to hell on occasion – aviation experts will probably have issues with a certain plane crash, for example – but the diehard nitpickers should leave their pocket protectors in the drawer before settling in. This is supposed to be fun, and if you’re not in it for the escapism you should have stayed at work.
Whether the book would have benefitted from being trimmed by a third is up for debate. Given that it involves an entire township, having a cast of only five or six characters would have ultimately dried things out far too quickly. Ensemble crew though it may be, the core of Barbie (King’s reluctant boy-named-Sue hero), Julia (tooth and nail reporter), Rennie (the Boss Hogg of Chester’s Mill), Rusty (too smart for his own good doctor) and Cox (helpless military presence) keep things centered, with the supporting cast woven in and out to keep things moving forward, stopping folks dead, and blowing things up. Through it all, King’s barbed wit pokes like a nail to the funny bone.
The only real gripe I’ll offer are the kids; too damn many rugrats running around, with only two of them offering any real impact on the story. I was reminded more than once of how Spielberg and his writers fucked up the Jurassic Park franchise with kiddies when they could and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
To be fair, the presence of one little brat for the utterance of the classic King-ism “socktagon” made me lol my ass off for 10 minutes. Nicely done.
Perhaps the only unfortunate aspect of Under The Dome is that I was constantly reminded of The Simpsons feature film from 2007, which features the town of Springfield trapped under a dome. King wasn’t influenced by America’s #1 family, of course, having planted the seeds for the book back in 1976, but I admit that silent prayers were said the deeper I went into it, hoping to hell nobody named Homer, Bart, Lisa or Marge showed up to join the party.