Thursday, December 03, 2009

Under the Dome: The Conclusion

As I mentioned in the previous post, Stephen King's is a 900 page novel about a small town that's been cut off from the outside world by an invisible force-field. By the time we hit pages 600 to 700, Under the Dome has to resolve three big questions:

+ What is the Dome?
+ Will they get out?
+ How will the political situation in the town be resolved?

I felt the end of Under the Dome was a bit of a let-down, actually. The book spents most of its length setting up a series of impossible-to-resolve-happily relationships, bringing everybody into conflicts that seem like they will only be resolvable through extended guerilla warfare and public executions. King instead chooses to spin this around and in one vividly written sequence refocuses the story on three scattered groups of people, and chooses to completely ignore the conflicts between them.

I'm being intentionally vague about this section of the book, because I don't want to spoil anything. However, this choice removes a lot of the Lord of the Flies-esque tension I saw in the premise of the book. I have heard that a TV series version of Under the Dome is being planned, and I can totally get behind that as a concept - using the novel as a starting point, I think there's a lot of tensions that can be explored (and subplots that can be invented) that will give this story the sense of epic scale that I sense its striving for.

In fact, if I were to sum up the reason why I don't think Under the Dome quite works as spectacularly as I think it should, it's that it feels caught between doing two things well: being an extremely fast-paced airport novel about people under pressure versus being a mean-spirited and leisurely observer of humans trying not to give in to the worst elements of their nature.

I also think that it doesn't play hardball enough. I won't go into details, but at about page 500 I started giggling because I thought I'd figured out where the novel was going to go. It suddenly occured to me that in the sort of novel King was writing, there was actually no guarantee that any particular character would survive. (And no particular reason for them to, either - this is a pretty great example of an ensemble cast of characters.) The story is primed to deliver a sucker-punch of such magnitude that it'd leave the reader reeling, wondering what would happen next. I leave it to you to discover what actually happens.

As for the resolution to the story: What is the Dome? Do they get out? ...

... You might remember I pointed out that this town exists in the same universe as Castle Rock and Derry. The long-term King reader might also note that this implies it exists in the same universe as Haven - which in turn implies a pretty neat explanation for the existence of the Dome.

(But that's not where the story goes.)

I was actually fine with the explanation for why the Dome exists, and the finale reveals that the whole novel has an admirable thematic consistency - it's a nice examination of hate and empathy, qualities that all the characters have been touched by.

In total, I enjoyed Under the Dome but felt it played a little too safe. A slow start, an INCREDIBLE middle section, and a resolution that I felt deflated a lot of the tension that had been built up. (However, that resolution did contain a great little scene in a fallout shelter.)

I'm looking forward to re-reading this one.
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