Friday, March 18, 2011

Horror Book Review

Under the Dome (2009):  I've never reviewed a novel before, but given my recent luck with films (all bad) I thought, what the hell.  Certainly couldn't be any worse.  I mean, it is Stephen King after all.  He's given us The Stand, Cujo, The Shining, It, etc., etc.  (It, by the way, scared the crap out of me.)  Under the Dome is a 1000+ page epic that, while not a bad book, ends up being more of a pale imitation of The Stand than a fresh nightmare.

Chester's Mill, Maine is cut off from the rest of the world when a transparent dome, indestructible and many miles in diameter, slams down on the countryside.  Anything in its way, trees, cars...animals, are cleanly cut in half.   The barrier is semi-permeable, that is to say rain won't pass through but air will, so people on either side can still talk to each other.  It's a convenient attribute.  Reaction to the event, on the outside anyway, is about as realistic as you could imagine.  The military cordons off the area, Anderson Cooper reports from the scene, and a transfixed nation watches from the comfort of their homes.  On the inside, though...

In The Stand, the antagonist was Randall Flagg.  This dude, this walkin' dude, was evil incarnate and wanted to finish what the plague started.  In Dome, we get Big Jim Rennie, a used car salesman and Chester's Mill's second selectman.  Sure, Rennie's a bad guy.  He's a power-hungry slimeball.  But at the end of the day, he's still just Boss Hogg. Our hero is Dale "Barbie" Barbara, an ex-Army badass turned drifter who was on his way out of town after an altercation with Rennie's son Junior and some of Junior's buddies when the dome dropped.  ("Ex-Army badass" may sound familar if you read Lee Child's books.  Child's hero is Jack Reacher, an ex-military cop, and King goes so far as to bring Reacher into Dome as a real person.  Being a massive fan of the Reacher books, I absolutely loved this.)  Oddly, Barbara spends most of the book in jail.  There are literally dozens of other main characters.  Too many, in my opinion, for a story that's so narrow in scope.  It would make sense for The Stand...or the Bible.  Not so much for Dome

You should know that there are no supernatural elements in Dome.  Well...where the dome comes from isn't exactly natural, but it has nothing to do with evil forces.  The evil comes in the form of Rennie and the townspeople he convinces to follow him.  Yes, it's an "us against them" morality tale that eschews traditional horror for the horrors that can be inflicted by average people who are forced into an impossible situation.  This is not my favorite story style.  I prefer tangible horror:  zombies, werewolves, vampires, evil clowns, angry ghosts, and zombies (I like zombies).  I see enough of the evil that man can do on the nightly news.  I stuck with the Dome only because of King's narrative prowess.  The dude can spin a yarn, make no mistake.

In the end, I found the book to be a bit of a downer.  Not because it's poorly written but because of the path down which King chose to steer the story.  It's quite dark.  Stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens.  Sure, the bad guys die in appropriate ways...but then so does the entire town.  Only a handful survive a fiery holocaust created when a shed full of propane tanks next to a meth lab are detonated with plastic explosives.  Why?  The short answer is that a meth-head went off his bean.  I know, I know...King killed millions, billions, in The Stand.  So why does the slaughter of one small town bother me more than that did?  Easy.  Because it reminds me of the town I grew up in (sans Boss Hogg, though).  In a sense, then, Dome succeeds by instilling dread and horror in the reader.  But it's that same flavor of dread and horror you get from watching torture porn horror movies.  Some folks like that kind of thing.  I don't.  Fiction should be stranger than truth, not a mirror held up to expose the frailty of the human soul.  That's what CNN's for.

The Breakdown -

Plot:  It's Lord of the Flies with TV, guns, and cell phones.
Theme:  When pushed to the edge, what kind of person are you really?
Characters:  Legion but very well developed.
Writing Style:  Normal King third-person.  We get inside everyone's head.
Climax:  Apocalyptic although not without a glimmer of hope.

The Verdict:  Should you read Under the Dome?  If you're a King fan, then yes, you should.  If you're looking for a good horror story, then no, you should not.  Go read Salem's Lot or The Shining or It again.  Freaking clowns, man...jeez. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nathan - I like that you added a book review to your repertoire. Keep 'em coming.