Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Stephen King fan. Like, I was visibly filled with joy when he announced the sequel to The Shining, which is, of course, an absolutely fantastic book that Stanley Kubrick made into a shitty movie. But I’ll write about that one another time… ;D
Anyway, this summer I finally got around to reading Under the Dome, King’s 2009 tome (1074 pages in the first edition hardback) about a small Maine town that finds itself isolated from the world at large by a mysterious, impenetrable dome. In a not-uncommon turn of events, the book is actually not horror (and not the first King has written outside the genre, either). I’ve had it since it came out, but haven’t had the time — or the motivation — to read it until this summer. I have to berate myself for putting it off for so long. I carried it around with me for about 2-3 weeks while I was reading it, and was completely hooked on it. King is a master of suspense, and I found myself always wanting to get just one page, one chapter, one section further before stopping. Finding out what happened to beloved characters, or waiting eagerly for hated ones to die became an addiction, and turned the book into a wild adrenaline high that lasted for as long as the book did.
I won’t say this is King’s masterpiece, but the amount of effort he put into certainly shows — third time really was the charm with this one, which he had tried twice before to write, in the 70’s and 80’s. According to King, only the first chapter of his old drafts actually made it into the finished story. The book is immense, and the challenge he gave himself was even greater. It’s one thing to take a family, isolate them in a hotel with a gruesome past, and bring them to life; but to take an entire town, bring it fully to life, and also pull in the effects its confinement has on the world at large… suffice to say that I was far more impressed by this than the novel itself. Never let it be said that King is a sub-par author or a sell-out. I’ll admit, the explanation such as it was felt a little anticlimactic and contrived. But by the time I got there I didn’t even care about the overarching plot of the Dome. The plot for me had become the town itself and all its inhabitants. I felt a connection with the town, I felt as though it was a real place and I was watching these events unfold right before my eyes. And no matter what the overarching plot is, if you can create a setting for it so realistic that people can completely overlook any sort of plot holes or general fantasy, then there’s a reason the book is in print, and it’s not because you’re a corporate cash-cow.
While the story itself is not my favorite of King’s works, it is certainly one of his most masterful. I can’t even fully explain how perfectly he brings this town to life; it’s something you have to experience yourself. The perfect balance of the overall plot with dozens upon dozens of subplots and characters, as well as backgrounds for the key characters, differing narrative voices and tenses, character development, etc. is overwhelming, from the perspective of a writer. Truly only one as talented and experienced as King could possibly have written something so perfectly. Any attempt at creating a town and a population like this one by a lesser writer would surely fall flat. I cannot stress enough that anyone interested in writing fiction — or even in reading it — should pick up a copy of this book as soon as possible.
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