Oh, Stephen King.
How I love The Stand! Since first reading that book twenty years ago I have consistently placed it in my “top books” list and have never looked back. To this day it stays in my mind as one of the classics of tomorrow; my generation’s Oliver Twist or Wuthering Heights.
Ever since then I get my hopes up whenever SKing puts out one of his hefty doorstoppers. There’s a frisson of hope dancing on my mind that thinks ‘Perhaps this will be another The Stand!” Over the years I’ve even started settling for “Perhaps this will be another ‘It’!”
This book, sadly, was neither.
It was good in many ways, with King bringing his usual deft hand to the characterisations. Whenever you read a King novel you’re invariably comfortable with the real-ness of his fictional cast. It seems like he’s a gossipy man discussing the neighbours and fellow church-goers, diners and shoppers in your town to you over a cold soda on a Maine front porch. ‘Under The Dome’ was no exception to that rule.
In many ways this book is best described as The Dark Half of The Stand. Where the Stand was relentless in its quest for hope after all hope appeared lost, this book is about the exact opposite. It is about how much of a drag it is living among other people. How much we turn on each other during scarcity. It borrows heavily from Lord of the Flies, The Road and pretty much every other dystopian postapocalyptic fiction. Except The Stand. In fact, I think that is probably why The Stand is such a favourite. It takes you to the End of the World As We Know It, but tacks on the “I Feel Fine”, underscoring the upnotes of joy.
There is little feeling fine in Under The Dome. What there is a lot of is King’s grumpy old man griping about the Bush administration, the Health Care issue and every other sort of thing you’d expect an old left-of-center warhorse to gripe about over a checkerboard in a Maine general store. I got tired pretty quickly of the strawmen and King’s medieval Punch and Judy take on their ways.
Now, granted I’m not the biggest fan GWB and his administration have. As a libertarian I tend to be very live-and-let-live about all things political. Which is why I don’t want to have my fiction start hammering me in the head with the writer’s pet peeves. That’s the same reason I ended up bailing (three seperate times) on that Arthurian Legends From The Women’s POV book whose name escapes me. The one by Marion Zimmer Bradley that was so relentlessly misandric.
So while I trudged through this one hoping for more upbeat turns, I felt like someone had given a left-leaning version of Bill O’Reilly a stab at writing a 1000 page novel. It killed the joy for me.