Tag Archives: short review

UNDER THE DOME, Stephen King: book review

To coincide with the season finale of the rather abysmal “mini-series” (which has now been renewed for a second season *sigh*), I thought I’d post my review of the book, which first appeared on my old blogger site in Jan 2010…

Under the Dome

A mysterious dome descends upon the town of Chester’s Mill. A woodchuck is split in two and a light airplane explodes, raining debris (and body parts) on Route 119. And so begins Stephen King’s latest novel, Under the Dome

Forget The Simpsons Movie comparisons. They’re unfortunate and distracting. This 1072-page epic deserves to be judged as a new King novel, end of. And he’s having a lot of fun here, you can tell, watching his one-hundred-plus cast move around like a kid staring at ants through a magnifying glass. So what if I didn’t feel quite the same connection with any of the Chester’s Mill inhabitants? I did, however, feel involved enough in their stories to keep turning page after page. Besides, Under the Dome is about people in general more than individuals. It is also about action, pace, tension, and story. In fact, King’s prose is leaner here than it has been in years, and if it’s not quite ripped, he has certainly worked hard to rid himself of not all but most of the flab that comes with TMI: Too Much Information. Indeed, hand on heart, I can say I wasn’t bored for a single moment, quite the opposite, and when you consider the length of the novel, that’s a massive achievement.

Anyway, Dome in place, things quickly heat up inside. Divisions form. Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara, an Iraq veteran, on one side, ‘Big Jim’ Rennie, used-car dealer and town second selectman on the other. King tries to blur the lines a little, but what we essentially get is a battle of Good versus Evil. Global Warming, albeit in microcosm, is addressed also, and with admirable restraint. As for the politics in the novel, purported to represent King’s own beliefs, they seem to have angered and even turned some readers off. They did not particularly interest me, so I won’t go there other than to say I don’t believe they encroached upon the story, perhaps because I saw this as something deeper than religion or politics. It’s an unflinchingly dark portrayal of human nature and society, but it may also be an honest and true one. Therein lies the horror.

Now for the ending. You will find out what The Dome is and why it is there, but whether you like the explanation or accept the explanation comes down to you, the individual reader. And in traditional Stephen King style, it will disappoint some and satisfy others. Fortunately, after a thousand-page read, I found myself in the latter camp. Again, for me the novel was a study of human behaviour above all else, and for the most part King handles this aspect with great skill and understanding. Okay, one or two characters lost it a little too quickly for me, but what do I know? I’ve never been under the dome…

Finally, would I recommend picking up a copy? Let me offer some perspective. Here are my top three Stephen King books:

1. The Long Walk (granted, written as Richard Bachman)
2. Hearts in Atlantis
3. Duma Key

Under the Dome supplants Duma Key at No.3 on my list, though it is a close decision. As the smoothest, swiftest, most thrilling read from King so far, I would have to say, yes – get your hands on a copy.

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JOYLAND, Stephen King: a short review

Joyland

Back cover:  “College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart.  But he wound up facing something far more terrible:  the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.”

I have a few problems with Joyland.  Firstly, it isn’t a Hard Case Crime novel.  Okay, technically it is – the 112th title in the series, in fact – but I suspect the rules have been bent for Stephen King, albeit understandably; he is a massive draw and will likely sell more copies than any other HCC author.  However, it is hard not to feel a little disappointed when Joyland is misrepresented as a hard-boiled crime novel or for that matter a crime novel at all.  Granted, there is a crime in this 283-page novel but it is far from being the central focus.  As for the horror or ghost story element, it’s seems like an afterthought, and the novel would have been no more or less enjoyable without it.  Or the psychic abilities of a certain minor character.

Joyland is, at heart, a coming-of-age story.  And it has a heart, bigger than anything I’ve ever read from King.  It is also a literary novel, strong on character and observation and language (the carny-talk in particular) but slightly lacking on plot and, particularly, satisfying plot development.  For example, King eschews traditional clue-gathering (perhaps to save space) and opts instead for having a minor character turn up with a briefcase full of all the information necessary for the protagonist to solve the crime(s).  It feels lazy and reinforces the feeling that the author was more interested in the characters than the crime aspect.  Clues could and should have been provided piecemeal, but there’s a tangible urgency in the text to return us to the relationships.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but remember this is supposed to be a crime novel.

Stephen King is no stranger to characters with psychic abilities.  But in Joyland the powers of one character are used to resolve the plot and little else.  Again, it feels lazy.  Half-assed.  But where Joyland does work and works best is in the characterisation:  the people and the park (a character in its own right).  Devin Jones is one of King’s most likeable and memorable (certainly in recent years), and the supporting cast are likewise well-drawn.  The “Joyland” amusement park itself is an endlessly fascinating place, too.  Indeed, the first half of the novel is all about the people and the location with little to no plot.  Nevertheless, King manages to draw the reader in, deep, with skilful and often beautiful prose, acute observations, and plenty of heart.  Everything feels slightly rushed in the second half, as if he suddenly remembered, Hey, this is supposed to be a crime novel, time to get on that.  And it suffers a little as a result, but such weaknesses in the story aside, Devin, Mike, Annie, Tom, and Erin are five characters I thoroughly enjoyed spending my time with, if not for a whole summer then at least for a couple of days…  7/10.