I used to love Stephen King’s books. But until getting Under the Dome on my Nook last week, I don’t think I’d read anything he’s written during the last 10 or 12 years — except for his excellent On Writing two or three years ago.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to boycott his later work. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t sneer at authors just because they’re wildly popular. (I reserve my sneers for those who are wildly popular and produce total crap, such as that Twilight woman, or those who hawk books they don’t actually write, such as James Patterson.)
At some point I guess the themes of his later stuff stopped appealing to me. Or maybe, as unlikely as it may seem, I finally grew up. But one thing about having a Nook, it tends to facilitate impulse purchases. I was out of stuff to read and grew tired of scrolling through the sluggish Nook interface, and there was Under the Dome. So I said what the hell.
I’d have to say I like it. I’d better say that, since it’s kept me up until 2 a.m. for three nights running. It’s a big book, at 800 pages probably way bigger than is strictly necessary. But for all of S.K.’s shortcomings as a “serious” novelist, nobody’s ever accused him of boring his readers. I’ve been turning the pages of this one just as fast as I did with The Dead Zone, one of his best works, three decades ago.
I don’t know how that man does it. If I did, I’d be doing it too. He takes implausible characters and impossible scenarios (in this case, a Maine town finds itself cut off from the outside world by an invisible and impenetrable dome) then weaves enough reality into the yarn to make it live and breathe — and, of course, horrify. Finally, Under the Dome reads like Lord of the Flies for the beach crowd. King even refers to Lord of the Flies at one point in the book, lest that crowd miss his point.
It has its weaknesses. S.K. has yet to write a completely believable child character, or a female one, and in Under the Dome there isn’t much nuance when it comes to motivation. Characters are either completely disgusting, horribly evil or excruciatingly noble. No gray areas. The scenes involving gore — and there are a lot of them — remain gratuitously detailed. While King deserves credit for creating the modern horror-fiction genre, he deserves blame for imbuing it with the sort of torture-porn sensibility that culminated in the Saw movies.
Still, I enjoyed it. It’s vintage King. Except for the references to George W. Bush and waterboarding and Barack Obama, it could have been written during his salad days. Knowing King’s reputation for repackaging old works, maybe it was. But it’s a guilty pleasure to read his stuff again — especially on the Nook, where nosy people can’t see the cover.
I’m also looking forward to his new novel 11/22/63, due out in November. It’s a time-travel tale, involving a guy who goes back to ’60s Dallas to try and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.