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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peering Under the Dome

Like many fans of horror phenomenon Stephen King, I continue to read his work because I hope that each new book might be half as good as some of his terrific early novels. Salem's Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Different Seasons, The Gunslinger - these are the stories that made me a fan. Some say that while King has had occasional moments of brilliance since those early wonders, his best years are behind him.

I used to think so too, given blunders like Dreamcatcher and the entertaining yet somehow ultimately unfulfilling wrapup of The Dark Tower series. But King's last novel, Duma Key, surprised me with its poignant tale of the creative impulse and human loss. And Under the Dome is even better, a 1,000 page opus of human (and inhuman) cruelty.

What would happen if a small town were suddenly sealed beneath an impenetrable, invisible bubble? The book starts off with predicable mayhem as unwary travellers crash into the invisible wall with disastrous consequences; there's a plane crash and a number of gruesome car wrecks. All this is just window dressing, though; King is really interested in how people respond to a bizarre sort of slow-motion disaster.

It's hard to reveal King's central theme without spoiling the book, but I will say that King makes his argument in a simple but evocative way. King's greatest strength has always been his ability to pull his readers back to their childhoods, with all the pain and pleasure of those years. One flashback yanked me back to grade school and its terrors with surprising power and speed, and that scene turned out to be the book's central metaphor. It's brutal, perhaps a little obvious, but it works, bringing into sharp relief the good, the bad, and the simply incomprehensible motivations of a number of the book's characters.

Some have complained that Stephen King sometimes fumbles his endings, but in this case the story is tied up if not neatly, then at least with thematic resonance.

Under the Dome is a return to form for King, if not a return to greatness, but I'm nonetheless grateful that King hasn't finished sharing his stories.

1 comment:

Benchmark said...

'Dome' is the first new King novel I've read in a few years - I finished it a week ago - ever since 'Dreamcatcher' soured me. And it was as remarkable and enthralling as you've written. I blew through it in about four days and it's become one of my favorite King novels. The man can certainly weave a gripping tale.