Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Book Review: Under the Dome

 

Under the Dome

Stephen King 
Hardcover, 1088 pages
Simon & Schuster
November 10, 2009

 

I finally finished it!  I conquered the beast and came out the other side of this monstrous text a little wiser and very much appreciative of fresh air and the open road.  I don’t know what it is about Stephen King, but the man really makes me think.  I know that seems strange when he’s considered the master of horror, but it’s true. 

As far as a synopsis goes, I think short and sweet will fit the bill here…

Chester’s Mill is just an average small town on the American East Coast with average, small town people trying to live their lives.  They play catch with their kids, have neighbors over for barbecues, buy groceries from the local market, and live and breathe in the same free air as the rest of us.  Until a strange phenomenon settles over the town’s borders – a dome-shaped barrier that stretches high into the atmosphere and miles under ground – sealing the Mill’s residents inside with no way to escape.  With no electricity and cut off from the outside world, life under the dome becomes a terrifying nightmare as resources become scarce, air quality deteriorates, and the local government (already a festering hotbed of corruption) abuses its power left and right using the misguided excuse of ” it’s for the good of the town.”

The story shot off like a cannon in the beginning with endless, gory descriptions of the chaos that ensued when the dome appeared – a plane crash, multiple car pile-ups, dead birds and severed limbs littering the ground like confetti.  We’re introduced to some principal characters, like Dale Barbara, aka Barbie, ex-soldier turned short order cook at the Sweetbriar Rose, Julia Shumway, owner of the local newspaper and proud Republican, and Big Jim Rennie, Second Selectman (read puppet master over the First Selectman and entire city council) and used car salesman/drug kingpin. 

After the initial whirlwind of tragedy and adrenalin, things seemed to slow down quite a bit.  I was bombarded with so many new characters back to back that by the time I returned to them later on in the story I’d completely forgotten who they were.  I think this might have been partially my fault.  This baby is a mammoth, with the crushing power of a crocodile’s gaping maw, so I didn’t take (lug) it anywhere and pretty much only read a chapter or two a night before going to sleep (which at times was a huge mistake).  And at just under 1,000 pages it was slow going.  If I had just buckled down and devoted some entire afternoons to reading it, the entire middle section of the book would have flowed much more smoothly and I would have remembered what everyone had been doing when I was last with them.

As usual, I loved the writing style.  The characters were compelling and true to life, and at times it was as if King was pulling me along to watch the events unfold like the ghostly spirits in A Christmas Carol… 

Another night is falling on the little town of Chester’s Mill; another night under the dome.  But there is no rest for us; we have two meetings to attend, and we also ought to check up on Horace the Corgi before we sleep.

Or,

Look, now.  Look and see.  Eight hundred people are crammed against the Dome, their heads tilted up and their eyes wide, watching as their inevitable end rushes toward them.

Once I got past the half-way point, the story picked up again and King began focusing on fewer characters so I could really get invested in them and see through their eyes as the really nasty stuff started going down.  Except for the chapters about Big Jim Rennie and his son Junior.  I loathed turning the page and finding out that I’d have to look through their eyes and hear their thoughts again.  They were both just so sleazy and reprehensible to me, I actually felt dirty and violated after reading their chapters.  Barbie was my favorite and I was surprised to find that I really liked Phil Bushey (aka Chef), even though he was a nut job addict who left his wife and son to take up residence in the Mill’s Christian radio station building (WCIK, owned by Big Jim of course) to cook meth, and lots of it.

I’m absolutely fascinated by this type of story, where some catastrophic event causes society as we know it to break down and we see the true colors of humanity as people struggle to survive.  Will they band together or will it be every man for himself?  Will they retain a sense of individual morality or will mob mentality take over?  Riots, looting, rape, and murder were par for the course after just a few days under the dome.  And the fact that no one knew what the dome was or how it got there (Terrorists?  A government experiment?) made it even more terrifying, especially after the military’s several failed attempts to break through it with massive weapons.

Even though Dome isn’t a classic King horror novel, it still managed to seriously freak me out by touching on one of my biggest irrational fears, something that almost all of my stress dreams are about – the sky, particularly at night.  For some reason I have recurring nightmares about something just being wrong with the sky – stars disappearing or moving, Earth spiraling out of orbit, the sun exploding, or the horizon catching on fire.  This story really touched a nerve, especially when a meteor shower looked like pink stars falling from the sky through the dirty surface of the dome or when children began having seizures and prophesying about the sun being gone. 

But most of all, it made me take a long, hard look at humanity and wonder what I would do and how I would react to some of the situations in the story.  Even with all the pain and damage the people of Chester’s Mill inflicted on each other (and as Julia Shumway pointed out, the dome might have been the catalyst, but they had no one to blame but themselves for the destruction that ensued), I was still left with a sense of hope, however small it may be. 

And looking back I can understand why King chose to delve into the lives of so many minor characters in the beginning of the story.  When the pot finally boiled over and all hell broke loose in the Mill, it was that much more personal, that much more real.  It wasn’t just a crowd of anonymous bystanders meeting their demise.  These people had thoughts and emotions.  They had names.  They had lives.  And I could imagine myself standing as one of them, waiting for the end and being utterly powerless to stop it. 

This book is definitely a heavy investment of time but to me, it was worth it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favorite Stephen King novel, but it was a hell of a ride and I’m glad I went on it.

Have you been Under the Dome?  What did you think of the book?

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Happy Wednesday!

Hello fellow bibliophiles!  I thought I’d post a few updates in between reviews…

I just finished the second Percy Jackson book, The Sea of Monsters, moments ago so stay tuned for my thoughts on that one.  Can I just say it’s great to be able to finish a book after three 45 minute sessions on my stationary bike?  Yes, yes it is.  I’ve been seeing the trailer for The Lightning Thief and I have to say it looks pretty good!  Anyone planning on seeing it?

I’m also still reading Under the Dome and I’m slowly creeping toward the end.  Okay, not really, but I’m definitely past the halfway point.  I usually devour Stephen King books immediately (I still remember starting and finishing Desperation on Christmas day in 1997, so glorious!), but this one is taking me a while.  Maybe I should have taken a break between behemoth books after reading Drood, which is also quite a hefty piece of literature.  But it’s starting to pick up the pace so I’m hoping to have it finished by the end of the month.

Yesterday I received my second book, gratis from the publisher, in the mail – Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa.  It’s about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and it looks like it’s going to be depressing but (hopefully) great.  The reviews I’ve seen so far give it high praise so I’m looking forward to reading it.  I’m just going to do myself a favor and read something light and funny at the same time so I don’t get too depressed!

What are you reading?

Time for some updates!

Wow, December was absolutely crazy!  I went from San Diego to Las Vegas to Northern California back to San Diego to Texas and just got back from Cozumel yesterday.  Let me catch my breath!  Whew! 

Apologies for the lack of posts of late, but I have managed to squeeze in some reading time during all of my travels.  I just read The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt and Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris.  I’m halfway through Vampire Academy, almost done with The Twisted Citadel and slowly making my way through Under the Dome.  Stay tuned for reviews of those.

Christmas brought me a bounty of new, delicious books to consume (thanks Mom & Dad!):

  1. Under the Dome – Stephen King
  2. An Echo in the Bone – Diana Gabaldon
  3. The Heretic Queen – Michelle Moran
  4. Cleopatra’s Daughter – Michelle Moran
  5. The White Queen – Philippa Gregory
  6. Angel Time – Anne Rice
  7. The Source – James Michener
  8. The Last Days of the Romanovs – Helen Rappaport
  9. Blood and Ice – Robert Masello
  10. Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead
  11. Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires Book 1) – Cynthia Holloway & Rachel Caine
  12. Marked (House of Night Book 1) – P. C. Cast
  13. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
  14. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See
  15. Dracula the Un-Dead – Dacre Stoker
  16. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

It’s going to be a struggle to figure out which ones to read first! 

Also, very exciting, I received my first ARC in the mail when I was in Mexico!  It’s called Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff.  Some of his writing credits include The Wonder Years, Major Dad, and Disney’s Tarzan.  This is his debut novel.

Happy New Year to everyone!  2010 is going to be a fantastic year.

Book Review: ‘Salem’s Lot

Stephen King
Paperback, 631 pages
Simon & Schuster
Copyright 1975

 

 

I adore Stephen King but I’d always avoided ‘Salem’s Lot due to the subject matter.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by vampires and obsessed with reading about them, but I prefer them to be the protagonists of the story rather than horrific monsters that must be staked in order to save the townspeople.

But a few months ago a friend lent it to me and I finally decided to give it a try in October.  I figured that it was fitting since Halloween was coming up.

‘Salem’s Lot (short for Jerusalem’s Lot) is a sleepy, quiet town on the East coast that’s filled with a cast of colorful characters and King introduces you to practically all of them.  The milk man, the town drunk, the Irish Catholic priest, the dysfunctional families, the high school English teacher and the list goes on.  The town itself is even a character and several chapters are told from its point of view. 

When writer Ben Mears, who grew up in the Lot, returns to battle a horrific childhood experience in the Marsten House, where the previous occupant hanged himself in the upstairs bedroom, he discovers that the house has been sold to two strange outsiders.  Determined to confront his demons, he takes up residence in the local boarding house and throws himself into writing his new novel, which is centered around the looming, dilapidated structure that hangs over the town like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House. 

Soon after Ben settles in and begins reacquainting himself with the town, strange things begin to happen.  The milk man’s dog is found hanging upside down from the cemetary gates, a young boy disappears in the woods and his brother stumbles home, dazed, with no memory of what occurred.  More people go missing or die mysteriously and Ben joins up with some of the townies, including Father Callahan, a classmate of the missing boy, Mark Petrie, English teacher Matt Burke, and Susan Norton, the girl he’d met shortly after arriving and had been instantly drawn to.  All evidence points to the new owners of the Marsten House, Straker and Barlow, and the group sets out to discover just what  secrets the newcomers are hiding. 

After more attacks and people behaving bizarrely, they soon find out what they’re up against and realize that to fight the evil that had infiltrated ‘Salem’s Lot they would have to face it head on, knowing they probably wouldn’t survive, before it was too late for the entire town. 

From the first chapter, I was sucked into the story and as I got to know the back stories of all the characters I found I could picture ‘Salem’s Lot with perfect clarity.  I didn’t feel as strong a connection to the characters that I usually do in King’s novels, maybe because the point of view jumps around so much, but I was entirely invested in them and desperately wanted them to succeed.  

Here’s an excerpt that stood out for me, from the child Mark’s point of view after facing a nightmare-come-true.  In it he remarks on the differences between a child’s fears and an adult’s:

“They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hope of perfect understanding but another child.  There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach.  The same lonely battle must be fought night after night  and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.” 

Occasionally I got bogged down with a few too many gossipy details about the town’s residents but overall the story unfolded in a suspense-building pace until the final conflict between the survivors and the evil they sought to snuff out.  And my fears about how the vampires would be portrayed were pretty accurate.  Aside from the master vampire Barlow, who was cunning and sophisticated, the rest were described as little more than brainless sacks of flesh.  There weren’t that many parts where Barlow made an appearance and I wished that a few more chapters could have featured him, or even been written from his point of view.  But that’s just my biased pro-vampire attitude talking.  It wouldn’t have been in line with the story.

Here’s one Barlow quote that I loved:

“Look and see me, puny man.  Look upon Barlow, who has passed the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with a book.  Look and see the great creature of the night whom you would slay with your miserable little stick.  Look upon me, scribbler.  I have written in human lives, and blood has been my ink.  Look upon me and despair!”

Awesome.

To me the story wasn’t so much about the townspeople becoming vampires, as how they reacted to the unbelievable events that gripped the town.  Who would turn tail and flee?  Who would rise to defend the town?  Who would sacrifice themselves to save the ones they loved?  It makes you think about what you and your friends and neighbors would do in the face of such a nightmare.  The answer might not be one that you like.

I would recommend ‘Salem’s Lot to anyone looking for a dark, chilling tale of good versus evil.