March 6, 2010

UNDER THE DOME (Review Part 3)

by Stephen King
877 pages, Hodder & Stoughton

Review by Paul Fenton

Part 3:

The residents of Chester's Mill were trapped Under the Dome for about a fortnight – I was under it for a considerably longer stretch (read review part 1 here and 2 here). Part of that is down to the book's sheer bulk, limiting its reading time to that brief mental twilight between slipping into bed and smacking into the bottom of a deep sleep-hole hard enough to loosen teeth. It's part of the reason, but not all of it.

Is it a good story? Yes, of course it is, and had it been written by anyone other than Stephen King I'd probably be waxing moronic on the brilliance of its wonderful loveliness. The problem, for me, is it WAS written by Stephen King; and because it was written by Stephen King, it was hard for me to be dazzled by the central plot; or by the finale, which didn't so much explode out of nowhere as approach at a comfortable pace from the other end of an empty football pitch, trying to whistle O Fortuna in a scary way and spitting way too much in the process.

You're probably thinking: this spoiled little brat has been raised on the condensed milk of cinema and expects every story to have a Keyser Söze or Tyler Durden ending. If you thought that, you'd be wrong: I'm not at all little. And no, I don't think every story should have a Keyser Söze or Tyler Durden ending, but if you're going to drop a gigantic, impenetrable Pyrex bowl over an entire town for a couple of weeks, then yes, I DO want a Keyser freaking Söze ending, or at the very least a Little Miss Sunshine. This felt more like the premise for a short story or novella, the catch-22 of course being the amount of scene-setting required to make the reactions of the townspeople plausible. And that really did seem to be the purpose of the book's bulk – wholesale characterisation. The core plot could have been synopsied synopsisied summarised on a bookmark.

Plot aside, there were some excellent passages in the story, most notably around how the townspeople step up to the growing threat of dictatorship posed by Jim Rennie. And don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the whole thing. But again, because it was Stephen King, maybe I expected more. As a complete work I found Duma Key far more satisfying, and while this is pitched at the Epic level alongside The Stand, it's not close to being its equal. Maybe it should have been a Richard Bachman.

Perhaps if it had been written by someone other than King, the plot development might have had me gnawing the skin off my fingers, but I know what King is capable of, and where his favoured paths lead. If it had been a debut novelist, I'd have been blown away. If it had been James Patterson, I … okay, if it had been James Patterson I'd have never picked it up. If it had been Dean Koontz, I'd have expected the story to morph into a government conspiracy-fest supported by gloopy nice-guys and talking puppies and a cloying sentimentality, and I probably would have got what I expected.

But Stephen King is not Dean Koontz, and for that much, Constant Readers, we should all be truly thankful. Take what he gives us and look forward to the next one.

December 2009 - February 2010
London, England

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