Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Under the Dome by Stephen King
[When Big Jim, concerned for his son's mental health, asks him a yes/no question:]

Junior shook his head slowly back and forth, but his eyes stayed in exactly the same place while he did it--pinned on his father's face. It was a little eerie.

What simple, short sentences, but they evoke a truly creepy image. And then King downplays the creepiness with the "a little eerie." When I read this description I went from feeling slightly disturbed to giggling. I had forgotten what a good writer King is.

When the TV series Under the Dome began airing, I was excited: no more Langolieers, please--in this day and age, plentiful money must be funneled into a King project, right?

We watched the show halfway through the second season, increasingly frustrated: like Lost, it introduced more questions than resolutions, all seemingly designed to ensure that the viewer will never stop to think. "That makes no sense! Why is he suddenly behaving so-- Ooh, a shiny new thing!"

I had to read the book to find out whether the original material was as nonsensical as what I was watching.

Within the first pages, some important characters from the TV show are killed. OK... Well, I knew then what won't happen in the book.

Although the book has a fantastical setting of a small town trapped under an invisible dome, the novel only uses the dome as a backdrop for looking into the nastier aspects of human behavior. To me, the overarching theme was bullying and exerting power onto others, whether the characters had been on the receiving end of bullying or dishing it out on a school yard, during war times, or in small, local settings politically. In the TV show, this is sort of hinted at, but the larger discussion of people manipulating other people for personal gains is overshadowed by Shiny Fantasy Objects and Portals.

If you're hooked on the TV show, feel free to read the book: there will be no spoilers because hardly anything is the same: Barbie is not some hitman who just happened to be in town when the dome came down--he's a cook at the local restaurant and everyone knows him, although he's not a local; Norrie is not a kid with lesbian parents who just happened to be passing through--she's lived in Chester's Mill all her life; Sam Verdeaux is not related to anybody else, nor does he have a shady past. He's just the town drunk and idiot, not a dashingly handsome, yet troubled man. Julia Shumway is indeed the town paper's editor, but she has no missing husband.

I do want to wait until the show is over to see what they do with the final episodes: the ending of the novel is terrifyingly cruel, but will the show writers go there? I can't wait for the resulting CG extravaganza!

I'm glad I read Under the Dome. I haven't read a single Stephen King novel in probably a decade, so I had forgotten what a great writer he is. He often gets flack for writing horror, or fantasy, and is not taken nearly as seriously as other, similarly prolific writers. But his stories are well-crafted, and like with my favorite authors, I would stop to reread sentences simply because they were so good.

I especially get a kick out of King busting through the fourth wall, which happens a lot in Under the Dome. The narrator describes the dome coming down from a variety of perspectives, including a truck driver and a woodchuck, and ends the description with this:

We have toured the sock-shape that is Chester's Mill and arrived back at Route 119. And, thanks to the magic of narration, not an instant has passed since the sixtyish fellow from the Toyota slammed face-first into something invisible but very hard and broke his nose. He's sitting up and staring at Dale Barbara in utter bewilderment.

Although such a display of smart-assery, I still love these sections: they're a great way to condense events and make characters seem more realistically connected to the world and other people around them.

I have some other books from the library I need to finish reading, but I'll put another Stephen King book on hold. Maybe it's time to reread IT.

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