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SHOULD HAVE TRIED ON A SMALLER DOME FOR SIZE,
This review is from: Under the Dome: A Novel (Paperback)
'Under The Dome' may have other sources of inspiration, but even before I bought it I thought of John Wyndam's 'The Midwich Cuckoos' (filmed as 'The Village of the Damned'). In each novel, a small community is abruptly cut off from the rest of the world by means of an invisible, ET barrier. In Wyndam's novel, this barrier is less brutally physical than King's dome (more like a wall or zone of knock-out gas), but the idea is essentially the same. In neither King's nor Wyndam's novel do the beings who created these enclosures actually make an appearance, or not directly anyway. They are elsewhere like Greek gods, and if they regard their prisoners at all, it is, at best, with cold curiosity.
Those are the similarities. Now for the differences. John Wyndam's novel is all of 190 pages, whereas King's is a door-stopping 1074. Wyndam's is tightly plotted; the aliens have a very clear purpose which becomes apparent fairly quickly. King's meanders into a warren of sub-plots and minor characters with major pretensions. I can enjoy King's roomier stories, the kind that spread and put down roots, such as 'The Stand', 'It' and 'The Tommyknockers'. None of those three blockbusters are perfect (they all have sagging middle sections), but I was happy in each case to amble off the main highway and take in the landscape, with all its wonderfully spooky diversions.
Of course, every novel is a kind of dome (or zoo, aviary, ant-farm, etc.) in which the author attempts to breathe life into at least one character. King's unwieldy dome is far too large, a grossly inflated novella whose thousand-plus pages are claustrophobic with dead ends and lazily written retreads from earlier stories or novels. And although the world inside this container is crowded, it is far too static. Sure, it's a busy world alright. Stuff happens, far too much of and far too fast to make any sense. The sub-plots are tripping over each other's feet. Within days of the dome descending, a nasty psychopath emerges in the figure of the town's Second Selectman, Big Jim Rennie. I strongly empathise with King's politics which, like my own, are decisively left wing, but unfortunately this cartoonish Republican bogeyman is about as predictable as a sprung Jack-in-the-box. Once his dastardly plan become clear (basically to stage a kind of coup and take over the town, turning it into a mini-police state) the roundabout starts spinning, there are food riots, more people are murdered, heroes stand up to be counted, etc. Yet there is no forward momentum. And how can there be? Though the fact of the dome is often conspicuous by its absence, its shadow is always present and its weight, like the foreboding thickness of the book, is crushing. The good guys and the bad guys, even the few better drawn ones, have nowhere to go. Before I got halfway through I was skimming.
That said, King's conception of the offstage ET's is interesting; I could have done with a little more of them (though not too much, their mysteriousness is effective). The ending of this book, like the beginning, is lively and interesting. We learn a bit more about the aliens, enough to tantalise us, though the ultimate resolution is far too perfunctory. King has been unnecessarily dismissive about his SF (not to mention his fiction in general), but he has some excellent ideas; remember the 'Altair 4' subplot from 'The Tommyknockers' or that satisfyingly wicked little story, 'The Jaunt', from his 'Skeleton Crew' collection. I think 'Under The Dome' could have been special, but it would have needed a crash diet, or some serious liposuction. I really wish King would follow his own excellent advice (in his 'On Writing' manual) more often. When he does, we get little gems, such as 'The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon'. That refreshingly short novel's opening line is possibly the best King has written: 'The world has teeth and it can bite you with them any time it wants.' The world in 'Under The Dome' has few teeth, and it doesn't bite.