I know I start many a review by saying this, but I’m not a big reader. Then again, every time I check out my book review section (at one of those moments where I also have the irresistable urge to smell my own farts or worse, read my own scripts), it strikes me how big the thing has become. Surely, if you think that I’ve been writing reviews for the last four years, it’s nothing. But then again, a lot of books I’ve read are missing. Because I didn’t have the time to write something about them. Or because I didn’t have the urge. Or nothing to say.
Last Spring, I got handed Stephen King’s memoires („On Writing“) by a classmate after having laughed over a few excerpts from his chapter on swearing. I devoured the entire thing in a week and noted down a lot of quotes for inspiration and further use. One of them gets me through many a scriptwriting meeting. Bonus points if you can find it (which is actually just a scheme to make you read the book).
After reading the memoires, it suddenly dawned upon me how much of King’s work I already knew. Obviously, I’ve seen Shining. And I remember watching Dreamcatcher. And Carrie. And the dozens of sitcom and dramedy parodies of Carrie. But never ever had I read one of his books, who are blasphemized and burnt on the spot by most of my friends. King is shit, they told me. The guy’s not a writer. It’s populistic garbage. I mean, the guy was in Playboy, for Christ’s sake!
What! More Preface!
Still, I picked up The Stand last Summer and took it with me on holiday. Sitting under a tree in France for a few days, I devoured it. It was unlike anything I’d ever read, and even if I must acknowledge that the final four hundred pages are pretty anticlimatic in comparison to the thousand before them, those first thousand were just unbelievable. Wanting more, I immediately moved on to Carrie (‘t was okay) and The Shining (which I loved, even if it appears to be a black sheep in the King creative family). After that, I tried The Dark Tower, which I strangely enough loathed and couldn’t read. Time for a break from King, I supposed.
This is the part where the review begins
Christmas arrived and I needed to fly back home for the holidays. I’m dead afraid of flying, so I always bring a book with me. This time, the victimg was „Under the Dome“. The weather was gnarly, so my flights and trains and whatever all got delayed, but that was okay. I had King with me. I read and read and read and time flew by. I just couldn’t put it down – to the very point that I actually forgot I was afraid of flying.
Going further in this completely unprofessional review, let me finally summarize: a small town gets cut off from the outside world by a huge, invisible dome. Immediately, law and order is tossed aside; good and bad sides rise and things quickly and increasingly turn into Lord of the Flies. And every time you wonder: how the hell is the book going to top this? And shortly after, the book tops it.
Under the Dome obviously stems from a „what if?“ scenario. What would happen if a group of people were cut off from the world? But, instead of walking the line that The Stand so brilliantly walked, King this time chooses to contract-contract-contract. You’re never too old to learn. About two hundred pages in, it will hit you that the first day is finally over. No more epic journey. Just like the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill, we are getting hot feet and feel increasingly claustrophobic.
The great part is that King sticks mainly to his main „what if?“ question. Sure, there’s a necessary few Star Trek moments, but he doesn’t seem to take them all that seriously himself. They’re the necessary evil, and, being the experienced writer that he is, he knows that an audience can’t be tricked and wowed by answers to crazy questions anymore. The society is past LOST (I’m not, I liked the Star Trek reveal a lot more than I should have – but that was mainly because of what the climatic ending chose to tell me with it. Let me tell you: it’s a lot more precize than The Stand). So he gives the necessary science-fiction plot as little time as it needs to work and focuses on characters.
And this is where the book – which might seem like a polarized mess at first, where the goodies are universally good and the baddies are bad all over – truly shines. There’s a point where you’ll realize (and I’m terribly sorry for telling you in advance, you can stop reading now, but I have to say this because it would be even less of a review than it already is) that this book is more than just goodies and baddies and uglies. It is a social critique on the post-911 society the USA (maybe even the World?) has become. A society in which the first black president gets picked apart by everyone for the sake of it. A society in which health care goes to overweight, smoking rednecks who developed diabetis. A society that utters cries of „Feed me! Feed me!“, not expecting to give anything back. A society in which the Media are crowned emperors of this green-and-blue globe.
Then, thinking of the recent „Rally to Restore Sanity“, thinking of FOX News, the pieces fall together. It suddenly makes sense CNN’s superscripts are riddled with grammatical errors. It suddenly makes sense almost every damn character seems to get shot in the freaking eyes.
Under the Dome has a lot more going for it than you might think. Sure, it might seem like a pageturner without deep content, but there’s so much subtle criticism there I almost couldn’t bear it anymore. And that’s what lifts this good book up to being a great book. It’s a critical view on the western society of today. It’s a book about society devouring itself. Feed me.
Also, it’s about Ants.