Monday, August 9, 2010

Stephen King - Under the Dome


On a usual October morning, the residents of Chester's Mill find themselves abruptly cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome. While most people are concerning themselves with confusion and casualties, some of them have other things on their mind: Dale Barbara is now trapped under the dome with the very people he was trying to escape; 'Big Jim' Rennie plans to extend his already significant influence to hold the town under his control, while his son, Junior, discovers that most problems can be solved with murder ...

Under the Dome starts in King's classic style. The narrative is interesting enough to capture the reader from first moment onward; King perfectly depicts the feeling of a small town where most everybody knows most everybody else down to the mistakes of their grand-grand-fathers. There are plenty of characters, which adds to the small town feeling but can sometimes be a bit annoying since it is fairly easy to confuse people with similar names, especially because not all of them play a significant enough role in Under the Dome for the reader to know exactly who they are.

Along with his usual qualities, King seems to have kept all of his weaknesses as well. He still has a bit of a problem with 'show, not tell' principle – he makes almost no distinction between the behavior of adult people in different age groups. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara, the 30 years old protagonist, could easily be aged anywhere from 40 to 80 – he is described as 'Iraq war veteran' and at first, I was sure he took part in the Gulf War. He doesn't act like a young man who grew up during the 80's and 90's – he doesn't care about technology, his way of thinking and acting is universally mature and apparently, he is into apocalyptic fiction:

“[...] It was built in the fifties, when smart money was on us blowing ourselves to hell.”
“On the Beach,” Barbie said.
“Yep, see you that and raise you Alas, Babylon.”

Not that there's anything wrong with apocalyptic fiction (I'm a fan of it myself), but this little piece of conversation just didn't work for me. It's as if Barbie's different characteristics just didn't add up - he did not strike me as a real person, more like a rough character sketch. Kid characters are a bit more plausible, but there is otherwise no difference in maturity, responsibility and general behavior between the characters aged 20, 30, 40 or more. Aside from that, the characters are wonderfully written, with various life stories, personal traumas and moral dilemmas.

Under the Dome is set in the not-too-distant future; this, from what I gathered, means somewhere between 2012 and 2016. It, however, doesn't seem like the people of Chester's Mill keep up with the times: an iPod is referred to as 'one of those computer-music doohickies', kids born in the 00's wish to be characters from Star Wars for Halloween (again, nothing wrong with that, but it strikes me as a bit odd – why not Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer, anything that is a bit more recent?). And of course, the gift of blank CD's at the end of the book. Even now, this one must top the chart of lamest gifts for your SO (or anyone, actually) ever, and I can't even imagine how lame it will be in, say, 2014. Sure, King needed these blank CD's for plot's sake, but he could've at least said that they were meant for a 'Back to 2000's' party or something.

Speaking about the ending – it's as sudden and unrelated to the rest of the story as endings in King's books often are. King makes a mess out of Chester's Mill, creates a very tense situation which makes the reader eager to see how it will all resolve. The book, however, ends after a sudden turn of events that erases all the previous problems and leaves a lot of little details unexplained.

Despite everything I've just said, Under the Dome is a very good read. Mistakes and inconsistencies are mostly lost during the fast-paced turn of events – Chester's Mill sees more action in just a few days than other towns see in years, so it is easily to get confused and get the feeling that it's all been going on for ages. Some of the characters also seem to have gotten confused – they act excessively or overconfidently, regarding that they have been trapped under the dome for only a few days. Other than that, characters are (mostly) plausible and full of life, with their own stories and reactions to the sudden isolation. These reactions are what King builds most of his story on, and I must say that it's a pretty good story, worthy of a re-read.



Sorry for not updating in two weeks. I was elsewhere, having fun :P


Anonymous said...

King is so hyped, but I never could bring myself to open one of his books. Which one do you consider the best to start with?


Trin said...

Depends on what you want :)

-horror: Pet Sematary, The Shining or It. All are 'classics' and they can be pretty scary.
-sf/fantasy: The Stand (post-apocalyptic) or The Gunslinger series.
-neither of the above: The Rose Madder or Insomnia (they too have some supernatural elements, but I'd not label them as fantasy/sf).

I started with Pet Sematary myself (it was the only one available in translation), which was good, since I was young enough that the book really gave me a good scare :) I now find The Stand and The Gunslinger best. Hope that helps you ^^


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