Under the Dome

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Moderately Unbalanced Squid
    November 10, 2009

    I seem to remember an old science fiction story from half a century ago now – probably the 1940s-1960s somewhere about an enemy creating an impenetrable box over New York City. Is this along similar lines?

  2. #2 Jim Swetnam
    November 10, 2009

    It was done on the Simpson’s also.

  3. #3 Moderately Unbalanced Squid
    November 11, 2009

    I figured it out – it was The Box from 1949 by James Blish: http://www.iblist.com/book12400.htm

    Definitely a Cold War story – should be interesting to see a take on the concept not dominated by Cold War thinking.

  4. #4 IanW
    November 11, 2009

    Drop that book at once! And get right back to blogging Dawkins’ “Greatest Show on Earth”! I insist!

  5. #5 Fargus
    November 11, 2009

    Jason,

    Conspicuously absent is your thoughts on the Dark Tower series. Have you read it? I seem to remember your mentioning it before, but I can’t remember whether you said you read it or not.

    I liked Duma Key, at least until the ending, which was unsatisfying. I thought it did a pretty good job of being authentically creepy for a good portion of it, and I thought the main character was pretty well drawn. It’s certainly not among King’s most memorable works, but I enjoyed it all the same.

    Also left out of your post is Black House. While not a King solo effort, it was one of my favorites of the last 10 years. Did you read it?

  6. #6 Joshua White
    November 11, 2009

    I have not read much Stephen King, My wife is a pretty big fan and we read things that the other person really likes once in a while. I hated the stand (actually I loved it until the last 100 pages, and now I hate it. I can’t really say why). But I seriously love the Dark Tower series. It is easily in my top 5 fantasy series now. The marvel graphic novels are also excellent.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 11, 2009

    Fargus –

    I am actually way behind on the Dark Tower series. I own all seven volumes, but I have only read the first three. That was so long ago already that I think I will have to start over and reread them.

    I was disappointed with the The Talisman, but I read it in high school so maybe it is time to give it a second chance. At any rate I skipped Black House when it was published. I’ll get around to it eventually, though!

    Duma Key had its moments, but overall I thought it was rather slow and I didn’t care for the premise. It was definitely way too long.

    Joshua White –

    It’s funny that you say that about The Stand since I agree with you about the ending. King is notorious for bad endings. Even It and Needful Things, two of my favorites, had weak endings. I’m just very forgiving since what came before was so awesome. King actually talks about this in his non-fiction book On Writing (which I liked very much).

    IanW –

    Yeah, I’ve gotten behind on my Dawkins reading. Originally I was deliberately reading very slowly, because I wanted to savor it, but lately I’ve just been distracted by other things. I’ll get back to it!

  8. #8 Strider
    November 11, 2009

    It’s funny, I generally like Stephen King’s writing and have been a fan since…ever. I liked all those books Jason mentioned save for Rose Madder and Insomnia. Cell was excellent but didn’t close the deal. I thought From a Buick 8 was really great-especially the final bits. I just received a robo-call from my public library this morning telling me that my copy of Under the Dome is waiting for me! Woot!

  9. #9 LibraryGuy
    November 11, 2009

    Stephen King is at his best when he is not doing the supernatural thing. Look at his Richard Bachman books. (not the Regulators) Or his Different Seasons Collection. Misery is still an all time favorite. Gerald’s Game & Dolores Claiborne were read cover to cover in one sitting. As for Under the Dome, did not Mr.king write about hope being a good thing, the best thing, never dying…..?

  10. #10 Gingerbaker
    November 11, 2009

    Every time I read a Stephen King novel I wind up screaming at his editor. Because it appears he doesn’t have one. Most of his novels could and should be at least 33% shorter.

    But, King’s short stories are absolutely brilliant and a sheer and guilty pleasure. As good as anything ever written in the genre. And there are a lot of them -more the better.

    Seriously, if you like King, do not miss his short stories.

  11. #11 IanW
    November 11, 2009

    Thanks for your attention to Dawkins. I’m probably not going to get that book until Xmas as a present, so it’s nice to get a vicarious helping of it from someone whose blog I enjoy!

    Having cogitated on Stephen King for a hour or two, I now have some hopefully more constructive comments!

    I admire your stamina and optimism in doggedly pursuing him from one novel to another in the hope he’ll get it back, but King’s been going downhill for me since “The Shining”. After that he never seemed to be able to capture it again.

    I had hoped he might do it with the “Gunslinger trilogy” which then inflated to twice that size, and I think this exemplifies his problem: Stephen King cannot, absolutely no-how, no-way-in-hell write a novel these days without giving you the entire history of New England and every family in it.

    I really don’t need to know the intimate details of a character’s grandfather’s life to enjoy a story (unless of course it happens that something there actually is relevant to the plot) but I get the distinct impression that in King’s stories it’s simply there because

    he doesn’t know when to drop it and move on, and I think he knows this himself and understands that it’s one debility he can’t overcome, hence his toying from time to time with retirement.

    Most good novelists will have some sort of a back-story at least for their important characters, but they don’t succumb to any temptation to toss it into the story rather than “waste all that effort”. King doesn’t appear to have any such a leash on his libido in this department.

    His other problem is that he needs to get out more, even if it is painful after his accident. Story after story is claustrophobically buried in New England and he’s really becoming derivative of himself and his previous characters in his endless mining of the region. His stories remind me of the mines of Moria in “Lord of the Rings”, where the dwarves dug too deep and got into something which became their downfall. Is there no way he can travel more and visit other areas or other nations, and mine new territory for his backgrounds and characters, perhaps resurrecting himself with such a fresh perspective in the process?!

    I simply can’t pick up any of his books any more, not even the “Gunslinger Trilogy 7.0″ to finish that tale because I can’t raise the interest to plow through four more endless novels (or however many there are now) to find out how it ends!

    For your sake I hope you’re right about “Under the Dome”, but I have no faith! Please do let us know how it went when you’re done reading it.

  12. #12 doug l
    November 11, 2009

    I wouldn’t call myself a fan but I’ve enjoyed a few of his books and thought Kubrik’s screen interpretation of “the Shining” is actually an improvement. Interesting that you thought “Bag of Bones” was turgid prose. That was one that I consumed as a book on tape during a long,long drive and what’s interesting is that he reads it himself and at the end he discusses in an extended epilogue the process of writing and reality (his accident) and in the case of reading it for the taped version, getting the correct feeling across, something he calls “the temperature”, and something I guess you weren’t able to do in that particular case, but for me, in my semi-captive state at any rate, it was a marvelous way to make the miles and miles (It was on the Alcan Highway from Skagway to Chicago) slip-away and it worked beautifully. Cheers.

  13. #13 trog69
    November 12, 2009

    Jason, I too have all seven “Tower” books, and am just now starting over, as it’s been since the first came out that I read it, and I’ve only read the first two. I mention this because the first book, The Gunslinger is a very “corrected” version. In his foreword, King mentions that the original had far too many factual errors relating to events in the continuing tale, and he felt the first half itself needed work, as it didn’t really lead the reader to where he wanted them to go. So far, I likey, but I’m like others here; Willing to put up with the bad, for the very, very good.

  14. #14 Sean McCorkle
    November 12, 2009

    @1,3:

    When I first saw the synopsis of the King book, it reminded me of an old, obscure, 1964 B sci-fi horror The Bubble in which victims find themselves trapped in a town surrounded by a huge, clear barrier. In spite of its short-comings, it had some scary moments.

  15. #15 kevin
    November 14, 2009

    Manhattan Transfer 1925 John Dos Passos and (later) by John E Stith

  16. #16 Sean McCorkle
    November 14, 2009

    kevin@15: Hey the Stith book looks interesting! will check it out… thanks!

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    November 22, 2009

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  18. #18 And-U-Say
    November 28, 2009

    I have read a few Sk novels and short stories, and find him to be over rated. One thing is that he doesn’t seem to find it necessary to do any research. He gets so many things wrong in his work and many times is inconsistent. He is like Michael Crichton, he comes up with brilliant ideas and then proceeds to fumble around in them without really taking them where it can go. The Stand was particularly disappointing as at the end it became apparent that he reached a point where it just had to end, quality be damned.

    If you love him… fine. But there are really better authors out there.

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