Saturday, November 16, 2013
Provincialism Under King's Dome
I don't think there has been a time in my life, at least since I was a eleven or twelve, that I haven't been in the middle of a book. I finished Stephen King's Under the Dome this morning, by the afternoon I was reading Paul Auster's The Music of Chance. I don't read as much as I used to. I am a better reader now, I see more and I am more critical, but I don't delve into them like I did when I was younger. The reasons for this are varied. For one, television is much better than it used to be. I avoided television most of my life because it was mostly very bad. But once shows like Madmen, The Wire and The Walking Dead started hitting the airwaves, I started paying more attention. Also, the internet has a lot to do with it. I am not reading full length books because the Net has so much quality stuff to read at my fingertips (and some not so much). I think I have maintained the same amount of quality of what I am reading, regardless of the medium. I can download this month 's Harper's Magazine onto my iPad whenever I want it. Not a bad thing at all.
I had given up on Stephen King novels long ago. I discovered him when I was in the ninth grade when the mini-series of Salem's Lot, starring David Soul, came on television. I ran out and bought the novel and read it quickly. When I hear sounds by my window at night, I still think of the child vampire tapping and it still freaks me out a little. This was his second novel, so I then read his first novel, Carrie, which I had already seen the Brian De Palma film. I was then reading his books as they came out, The Shining, Night Shift, The Stand and The Dead Zone. I loved them all. It was after reading The Fire Starter, I decided to stop reading him. I was a teenager, and I thought (as teenagers often do) that I was too good for this. I should be reading literature. It wasn't until I was in college that I picked him up again as some good summer reading. I read Different Seasons, Pet Sematary and half of Christine. Different Seasons was one of his best while the other two were horrendous. I had to stop half way through Christine because I was so annoyed. A haunted car? Really? I was seeing a formula that I didn't like. I stopped reading him then and hadn't read a word of his since, until now. I often wonder if I reread some of his old stuff, now that I am a better reader, if I'd like them as much as I did when I was a kid. But why ruin a good thing? Now, they are just a pleasant memory which is a good thing.
This summer I picked up Under the Dome at a yard sale for a dollar. It is a 1074 page tome that if I place on my passenger seat, my car tells me it needs a seat belt. It is huge. I had been told by a friend that I would like this one because finally King wrote something that could be considered literature. This excited me. It had been about three decades since I had read anything by him. It took me about three months to read it. Literature? I would say not, but it was a good read. I have read many good books that are probably not literature, but are simply good books. I would say that I enjoyed it but I am not going around recommending it.
I need to point out that I am in awe of Mr. King. I have no difficulty writing and coming up with great ideas and even characters, but I find plot to be horribly difficult. To arrange a piece of writing in a comprehensive story, to maintain it in an interesting narrative and consistent voice, I cannot imagine how he does it again and again. I have tried and I can't, not yet anyway. This story follows approximately 30 characters as they go about their business, for 8 days, after a mysterious dome covers their town. It is listed as science fiction but it is mostly a study of inner workings of a small town, surrounded by the dome, they can only rely on each other. How dependent are we on the outside world? Apparently very, at least according to Under the Dome. A power mad local politician, Big Jim, becomes a dictator within a few days by hoarding the propane supply, the only power supply, and demagoguing the most fearful of the town's citizens into a mob. "A town is like a body, it seeks drugs to make it feel better." Big Jim is that drug.
The best thing I can say about the book is that it is perhaps the best portrayal of provincialism that I have ever read. If you have ever moved from a big city into a small town then I don't have to tell you what provincialism is. You already know too well. Being an outsider among people who have known each other their entire lives is an odd enough feeling, but when it starts having a detrimental effect on your life because of it, this is provincialism. Under the Dome does this very well. When the dome covers the town, they are looking for answers, they are terrified and are looking for someone to blame. The easiest target is the newest resident in town, a retired military officer named Barbie. You can guess who the hero of the book is. Like most of King's books, the good and evil sides are well defined. This is a trope of a lot genre fiction, particularly horror and fantasy, and the main reason I don't read much of it. Life is much more gray than the worlds that these generally portray. Science fiction usually doesn't fall into this trap, like horror. I probably won't be reading any more of King's fiction. I've read too many great books to spend time reading thousand pages of good-guys-versus-bad-guys and good guys win after a blood bath. Too many great books are out there waiting for me, literature or not, and I don't have enough time to read them.