I have a love hate relationship with Steve King. I remember first cracking his stuff when I was twelve (because I wanted "grown-up" books, rather than kiddie fare) and being thoroughly impressed and scared. I've revisited some of those in adulthood and, like so many things, have realized that things change as you grow. I caught references that I certainly would have never caught before, I found myself not as fearful, and the reading went by a lot quicker. King put out some quality books and really molded the contemporary horror genre.
Then something changed. I'm not sure what it was...but something felt different. The books King was putting out weren't the books by my beloved author. Yes, I read them, but there was something...wrong. I'm a huge Dark Tower fan and I found myself reading King's books (the ones I loathed) just for the hidden Easter Eggs into the Dark Tower world.
That's a horrible way to start a review. I just wanted it to be clear that I've been not grooving on King's work for the past few years, nay decade. So enter "Under the Dome".
I was instantly captured by the story when King leaked the description onto his website. I got onboard with it. Then the preorder battle began and I felt I'd gotten the deal of a lifetime when I snagged the $35 book for $9. Suck it Barnes and Noble! Then I realized that this mama jama was near 1100 pages in length! Are you fuckin' kidding me?
I read it (not in one sitting) and will say this: It's good. It's not great, it's not bad. It's certainly a redeeming piece if, like me, you've found your interest in Stephen King wane.
I'll address this head-on first: This is not the Simpsons Movie. I've heard people cross referencing the Simpsons movie, etc, since this came out. Even I, while in the first 250 pages was bemoaning the parallels - the polluted lakes and streams, the obvious dome, and a very similar Simpsons-like parishoner. Hmmmmmm...
Having finished it it's nothing more than coincidence. Truly. No doubt the argument will rumble on for the end of King's life, but that's just people who haven't read the book. Read it and you'll see that this was probably conceptualized years before, as King has said time and time again.
- The main characters are great and solid. King's characters of late have lacked something. I'm not sure what. But this epic tale of good pitted against evil has to have some power players. You get that in Dale Barbie and Big Jim Rennie. While some of the things that come out of their mouth are ludicrous, you have one really scary mofo in Big Jim Rennie and one humble "cowboy" in Barbie.
- The political tension. It's apparent that King was putting the finishing touches (or actually writing it) during the McCain-Obama presidential election. I saw sides of people during that year that displayed the ugliest of human nature - on both sides of the political fence. People declared people homos, racists, sexists, unitelligent and all of this completely unwarranted. Now imagine being caught in that hell day in and day out? That's what you've got. And King displays that very, very well. Better now than he ever has.
- Truly visceral scenes. I have no problem with violence and bloody gore. I'm no prude. However, there are scenes in this book (a rape scene and the aftermath come to mind) that had be ungodly uncomfortable. It was as if Brian Keene had stepped in for a moment and tackled the brutality and gore on King's behalf. There are numerous scenes of true human horror that had be not wanting to go on. I think that's a testament to the writing.
What's not so good? Sadly, this list is a bit longer.
- The dialogue. Most of it's solid enough, but then you've got these scenes that feel out of place because of the cheesy dialogue. When it's bad it's abyssmal. We're talking SyFy original movie bad. If the book had been going that direction that would be cool ( I love B-movies and SyFy). Trouble is, this book isn't going that direction and that's a problem.
- Too many plotlines. I know this sounds nitpicky - look at The Stand, for chrissakes - but this was a problem in this particular book. It reads quick enough, but it's got so many unnecessary scenes and characters that I rolled my eyes. As reading I kept plunging ahead 'cause I knew that some of those little things would come back in the end. They never did, and I felt I'd been jipped. Interestingly enough, some of those unnecessary scenes are some of the best written ones.
- The payoff. This was the biggest disappointment to me! In a novel like this you've got to have a solid payoff. We want to know what the Dome is and where the hell it came from. I'm not going to spoil it here for you. What I will say is this: the payoff happens and passes like a quick little joke. I wanted to see that fleshed out. After all, we've got a story about A DOME, and we want to know what the point of it all is. Rather, it took something grizzly and "Lord of the Flies"-esque and cheapens it into a bad "Twilight Zone" episode.
All in all, I give it 3.5 stars. It's not a bad read by any means. It's good. If you're a King fan you'll love it. If you're not a King fan, you'll probably not love it so much, as it does read like oldschool King moreso than the King of late. (King fans, you'll get a few Easter Eggs here and there)
Until we meet again...happy reading.