Last November I was privileged enough to witness a rare meeting of the minds and report on it for Dork Shelf. Cronenberg looks under King’s Dome detailed the filmmaker’s interview with Stephen King in front of a giddy audience at Toronto’s Canon Theatre. Although they covered many subjects it was primarily a promotional event for King’s latest book, Under the Dome. At the end of my article I promised that a review of the novel would be posted within in a few weeks. Unfortunately the powers that be (me) did not allow this happen in the timely manner promised, but since the book has just been released in paperback, some of the following musings feel relevant again.
I’m not sure if it was the excerpts of Misery my dad would read to us at the cottage, or re-renting the corner store’s copy of Stand By Me on VHS over and over again, or perhaps it was the kid’s T-shirt in Monster Squad, but I think I was conditioned from a very young age to like Stephen King. And while I grew out of Star Wars novelizations and Grisham’s legal ‘thrillers’, I never got sick of the King. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t at all daunted when the brick that is his latest novel made it into my hands.
My delay in writing this review had nothing to do with how long it took me to read the book. Getting through it was as easy as watching a season of a good HBO show. Despite its appearance, it is not a lengthy read. It was captivating, fun, and of course shocking at times, but like a good TV show, it was something I could only really enjoy from the comfort of my own home. In fact, my biggest complaint about this book is its size. Not its length, but the unnecessary girth of the object itself. King admitted he was ‘killing a lot of trees with this one’ but when I actually read it, with its thick paper and short chapters, I began to feel that it was all for marketing.
It was heralded as a return to the beloved, high concept stories with quadruple- digit page counts that he became known for in the 80’s with books like The Stand. Indeed, by presenting the reader with an entire town full of characters, all with their own quirks, motives and problems apart from the shared one, he has created a story with a greater scope than others he’s been putting out in recent years, but does size really equal sales? The paperback version is slightly less cumbersome and therefore a little more convenient for anyone who likes to travel with their reading material and not worry about it causing future back problems.
One aspect of the first edition hardcover I did prefer was how it let the exceptional cover art (seen above) serve as the only plot synopsis provided. The title and the picture of a town beneath a giant dome with a burning plane wreck inside tell potential readers all they need to know. The perpetrators of this cruel experiment remain a mystery throughout most of the story as King concentrates on the chaos that ensues following the dome’s placement in the first pages. When this happens, not only are planes brought down, but limbs are severed and even an unlucky chipmunk finds himself in two parts on either side of the dome. The dome is initially invisible which causes several deadly collisions on the highways in scenes that I imagine will be big special effects hooks for the opening of the Dreamworks produced mini-series reportedly airing next year.
The hero of the book is a typical one for the most part. He is an ex-military drifter picking up some extra bucks as a short order cook at the town diner. After putting some unfriendly locals in the hospital, Barbie is on his way out of town when the dome comes down. Oh yeah, there’s one thing that’s not typical about this hero, his name is ‘Barbie.’ Short for Dale Barbara, but most of the time it’s just ‘Barbie.’ This takes a little getting used to, as the tall doll that has more outfits than King has books can’t help but make her way into the reader’s head from time to time, even when Barbie is kicking ass and taking names.
With their pulpy dialogue, toilet humour and clear divisions between good and evil, King is still writing stories that are very accessible for young people. But these books remain enjoyable for adults who recognize that he uses these trusted tools consciously and more aptly than any other contemporary mainstream writer. Under the Dome is no exception to this and as long as he continues to relish in delivering us our guilty pleasures, this reader will always think Stephen King Rules.