I already made my trip out to Barnes and Noble today to pick up Stephen King’s new novel Under the Dome. I have not been this excited about the release of a novel in quite some time. No doubt I am setting myself up for a disappointment, but I think this will be a long-awaited return to form for King.
I have been a diehard Stephen King fan since before high school. His ouvre includes several slam-dunk masterpieces: The Shining, The Stand, Firestarter, Different Seasons, It and Needful Things, along with quite a few others that were merely very good: Carrie, The Dead Zone, Christine, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon and The Green Mile. Most of his novels not included here were also quite good, of course.
I realize I don’t always see eye-to-eye with other King fans. For example, Christine is commonly regarded as one of his weaker efforts, but I have always ranked it pretty high. On the other hand, Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary are generally very popular, inexplicably in my view.
Though I have continued to read King’s books as they have been published, the shine has been coming off for a while. 1994’s Insomnia was uninspired and heavy on cliches, and 1995’s Rose Madder, which started with 200 pages of gloriousness, fell apart very badly in the end. On the other hand, though things were getting a bit uneven, he was still turning out excellent work like The Green Mile, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Hearts in Atlantis. Around the same time, Desperation was aptly named. 1998’s Bag of Bones saw something new from King: turgid prose. The story just flat didn’t move.
But since the turn of the century things have gone downhill. Dreamcatcher was embarrassing and From a Buick 8 wasn’t too memorable. Cell was an enjoyable attenpt at a zombie story, but it hardly broke new ground. The Colorado Kid was enjoyable, but completely inapproriate for the series of noirish crime novels in which it was published. I didn’t make it through Lisey’s Story, and Duma Key was, well, kinda dumb.
So why am I so optimistic about Under the Dome? Partly because I like the premise. One of King’s trademark small New England towns finds itself suddently cut off from the rest of the world by a big, impenetrable dome. Mayhem ensues. It is also a sprawling epic of a book (1074 pages to be exact) and King usually does those well. And partly because I really want to like it. Is that so wrong?
And then there is the striking book jacket. The artwork is pretty spectacular, and I like the complete lack of flap copy. Reminiscent of The White Album (or the Black Album, for the Spinal Tap fans.)
Of course, it will have to get in line. I currently have about five books going, and even I have my limits. I tend to have a call waiting thing going when I read, which means that while I am passing my eyes over one book another is beckoning to me from the shelf. Winter break isn’t that far off, perhaps that will be the time to plow through it. Assuming I can wait that long.