2.01.2013

King's Highway pt. 70: Under the Dome


Spoilers ahead - sailor be warned. I flirted with the idea of upholding the novel's secrets for this blog but nah. Too much to discuss to keep it spoiler-free.

Under the Dome is “1100 pages of localized apocalypse,” says James Parker at the NY Times.  It “is the work of a master storyteller having a whole lot of fun,” says Jedediah Berry on the other coast. And the cover to my edition has this assessment from Jack Reacher author Lee Child:

Seven words: The Best Yet from the Best Ever. King returns the favor (or perhaps this was the quid pro quo) a few times in the text, having Colonel Cox and others refer to the toughest goddamn military cop ever known, Jack Reacher. So, apparently, the Jack Reacher novels take place in an America where Chester's Mill, ME was encased in a dome. At least on one level of the Tower.
I listened to most of this on audiobook. It was interesting switching between hearing the story (as read by Raul Esparza) and reading it. Raul gave Big Jim Rennie a rather out-of-place Southern accent for a town selectman who's lived his whole life in the most northeastern state of the union (ie Maine), and perhaps lingered a little too long over Junior Remmie's Baaaarbies (though in fairness, so does King, in the text; I could have used a few dozen less of those), but he did a commendable job. 

(I listened to him read me this story while cooking, mainly. It will be interesting to see if watching the upcoming TV show activates an associative craving for omelets and roasts or makes me want to chop some peppers and onions. Due to a job I had years back, I always crave a turkey-and-melted-swiss-on-rye when I read the New York Times, as that's what I always ate/ read on break. So the precedent's been set.)

UK Edition
Anyone looking for a non-partisan tale of good and evil will undoubtedly be disappointed. This is a world where Republicans are necrophiliac fascists who run meth factories under guise of fundamentalist Christian radio and exploit immediate tragedies to frame, bewitch, and rape those dumb enough to trust them. They are opposed only by a few beleaguered Democrats (mostly women,) internet-savvy teens, and that staple of American 21st century fiction, the “ex-military special ops” bad-ass, one whose feminized name, “Barbie,” underscores his sympathy for the One True Religion. 

(True, one of his allies, Julia Shumway, is described as “Republican to the core” in the plot synopsis on the first page, but she is the sort of Republican 100%-Democrat writers like King (or Aaron Sorkin) often create: i.e. not-very. One gets the impression her political affiliation is driven by marketing concerns, an attempt to not alienate “the faithful” more than a sincere attempt at parity. Her newspaper, aka the town's organ of truth is even named The Democrat.) There's even some Our Fearless Leader stuff with President Obama stepping into the novel to personally pledge his support and concern, and attendant teeth-gnashing from the crooks at that “cotton-picking terrorist-named blackjack summabitch” for doing so. 

Normally, such stacking-the-deck bugs me, but I have to admit, I was thoroughly entertained by it. Because (the President Obama stuff aside, which I assume was a late-in-the-game addition to the text, as most of this was written before his administration) as satirical indictment of Bush/Cheney War on Terror America, it's pretty damn spot-on. Most of our fictional reactions to the War on Terror Age seem to go in the 24 or Zero Dark Thirty direction; not so, here. One thing you cannot accuse King of is offering up justification for more torture, terror, and propaganda. Under the Dome is an indictment, a howl of anguish, and ultimately, as King the Eternal Optimist likes to provide, an expression of hope that there is a way out from under it.

I almost wish they would cast Dick Cheney as Big Jim Rennie for the forthcoming TV show. I mean, what the hell; if Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Newt Gingrich can play themselves on Thirty Rock and Park and Rec, why the hell can't Dick Cheney join in the fun? The heart arrhythmia wouldn't be too much of a stretch for him, actingwise.
Let me give you some examples while recounting the plot:

Things begin with a plane crash on Rte 119. (Redrum!) A force field (the Dome of the title) suddenly and inexplicably traps the inhabitants of Chester's Mill, ME. In an instant, their lives are changed forever. Dale Barbara aka “Barbie” almost makes it out of town before the Dome comes crashing down, but no luck. Luckily, he's an ex-military-interrogator with a heart of gold, and Colonel Cox (outside the Dome) taps him with the mission of finding whatever device is generating the dome. Opposing him is the town's #2, running the show from behind the scenes, “Big” Jim Rennie, who also owns one of the town's used-car dealerships as well as runs one of the country's largest crystal meth factories, hidden in the always-running Christian radio station on the outskirts of town. 

US soldier guarding Afghan poppies.
Having illegally appropriated most of the town's energy for this meth operation...

(It's propane in the novel, of course. Look out, Iran!)
Big Jim exploits the Dome to maximize his political power. He is aided in this by many of the town's thugs, who he (through his puppet on the police force, Peter Randolph) promotes to deputies.


Main Street was full of people staring up into the sky with their mouths gaped open. To Rennie, they looked like sheep in human clothing. Tomorrow night they would crowd into Town Hall and go baa baa baa, when'll it get better? And baa baa baa, take care of us until it does.” (...) “Really, there was nothing like a scene of destruction to get people playing follow-the-leader.”


Among those deputized is his son Junior Remmie, he of the perpetual Baaaaarbie, whom we first meet after he kills his girlfriend and her friend who has the bad timing to show up in the immediate aftermath of the murder. After orchestrating a few false-flag operations to justify this expansion of police presence and provide cover for his own machinations, Big Jim has Barbie arrested. Barbie's got a posse, though, and they break him out. They find what's generating the Dome: (last chance to remain spoiler-free for that... three... two... one...) a device left by alien children, who are doing to Chester's Mill what earthling children have been known to do to antfarms, namely put them under glass and watch them cook. But, they are unable to turn it off. Meanwhile, at the meth lab, Chef Bushey has “gone native” and sees himself as Soldier Numero Uno in the Army of God. Having recruited the easily impressionable political figurehead, Andy Sanders, Chef Bushey initiates a standoff with those Big Jim sends to reclaim the propane. As has been known to happen a time or two at the end of King-novels, the town goes up with a bang:

A still from Herzog's amazing (and hypnotic) Lessons of Darkness.
Most of the town (including Big Jim Rennie, eventually) die from the result of this toxic storm. Having anticipated this and arranged for huge fans to blow fresh air through the semi-permeable Dome, Barbie takes his group of survivors to its edge. They manage to make contact with one of the children from the galaxy far, far away, convince it of their sentience (the way, several characters ponder, ants may have begged for mercy to activate the empathy of any children who burn them for kicks), the Dome is lifted, and God Bless America. 

I won't spoil the novel's very last line, which works exceptionally well as thematic payoff for the arduous word-trek leading up to it, but the last couple of acts contain many of the novel's best moments. 

There is lyricism (“A reddish moon finally clears the accumulated filth on the eastern wall of the Dome and shines down its bloody light. This is the end of October and in Chester's Mill, October is the cruelest month, mixing memory with desire. There are no lilacs in this dead land. No lilacs, no trees, no grass. The moon looks down on ruination and little else.”) 

There is profound truth (“Sorrow for a wrong was better than nothing, Barbie supposed, but no amount of after-the-fact sorrow could ever atone for joy taken in destruction, whether it was burning ants or shooting prisoners.”) 

There is humor (“God turned out to be a bunch of bad little kids playing interstellar X-Box, says Reverend Libby at one point.) 

And there are horrors galore (Big Jim's death, especially, which is just some great and exceptionally-effective horror writing, too much to recount here, but also within the wave of fiery death that sweeps over the innocent and guilty alike.)

For me, this novel is King doing what he does best. Large cast of characters, villains sketched in broad but effectively characterized strokes, a town brought vividly to life, a cautionary tale of the hierarchies that form in a post-“event” world-in-miniature, and a kinetic pace that belies its nearly-1100 pages. I referred to Duma Key as a mountain-range of a book, and the same goes for this one. As with DK, I'll miss walking its trails with the characters created for the journey. Most of the reviews I've read concur, but some take issue with the novel's big reveal re: where the Dome comes from.

Not to mention its similarities in plot to The Simpsons Movie. Which, while understandable, are just coincidental; King started writing this story in 1976. He responded to the similarities by saying he was just as surprised by them as everyone else, but that stories can be no more alike than snowflakes, as no two human imaginations are the same. Good enough for me. It's not exactly unheard of for the same plots to be explored and conceived independently of one another.
A few reviewers noted some of its similarities to The Midwich Cuckoos. These similarities are found mainly in the novels' respective beginnings; King has wrotten about Wyndham's tale in Danse Macabre and elsewhere.
John Dugdale, in a review for The Sunday Times wrote: “King's inability to raise his game—to relinquish the methods of his more straightforward tales of the paranormal—prevents you taking his socio-­political vision seriously. The simple division of characters into goodies and baddies, the use of magic, the homespun style, the sentimental ending, the vital role played by a dog in defeating the forces of evil—all of these belong in fiction for older children, not the grown-up novels he's bent on emulating.”

To each his own, of course, but come on, John, why you got to pick on Horace Greeley (the Corgi?) I for one wouldn't mind a spin-off series of his further adventures with Julia and Barbie. King's love for his real-life dog Marlowe has never come across better than it does, here. (Although having him receive telepathic instructions in aid of the plot from a deceased Brenda Perkins might be a bit much.)
As for the aliens, what can I say? I love that part. What else could it have been? I want even more, actually. We've seen King bring aliens into things before, and equally-as-peripherally, in The Tommyknockers and From a Buick 8 or way back in “I Am The Doorway.” How about a story set actually in outer space or on an alien planet? Take it to the next level. I doubt he will (King's novels seem wholly-terrestrial, even when aliens are brought into it,) but I'd love to read it. Anyway, the aliens reveal, particularly that it's just a group of children playing around with humans like the intergalactic ants we very well may be vs. the shocktroops of an all-out invasion a la Dreamcatcher or residual presence a la The Tommyknockers, works better than the alternative, i.e. the Dome is the creation of some force-field-division of The Shop or something.

Psyched as hell for this tv show, now. The last sentence of the Author's Afterword is a thank-you to Constant Reader: “if you had half as much fun reading as I did writing, we're sitting pretty.” Indeed we are, sir, and you're welcome.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

- Some lines I enjoyed: “His balls tingled like tuning forks” or “the internet... that electronic galaxy of endless possibilities...” or “that wasn't just mail in those diapers, it was Federal Express and UPS combined in one.”

- I'm probably among a minority of readers that got this in his head each-and-every-time I picked up the book:


What can I say? I absorbed a lot of hair metal at an impressionable age. I hope someone makes a highly-unlikely song parody. You're un-der the Dome! Whoooo-oooah-oh! Un-der! The! DOME...

- It's safe to say King was enjoying himself some Lost during the writing of this one. He not only refers to an invented sequel for it but also created (or had created for him) a fake website for the town. Not that Lost was the first thing to provide invented-supplementary-material for itself, but it certainly took advantage of it in a comprehensive fashion.



- Finally, I was listening to “The Map Room” from the Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack (I won't even provide a link because if you don't have it already bookmarked, then shame on you) while reading the section of Rusty's initial approach to the Dome Generator. Just a little gift from the God of Random, and one which delighted me.

NEXT:
Carrie: our penultimate stop on the Highway!

9 comments:

  1. I liked this novel a lot, although the use of "Barbie" as the name of a badass ex-soldier annoyed me mightily.

    I'll be very curious to see if the tv show keeps the sci-fi angle. I suspect it will not, but I can't imagine what they could replace it with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It'll be interesting to see what they do with it as a tv show. I'm cautiously optimistic but mightily curious.

      I wonder if the satire of the book will come across annoyingly onscreen? Like Aaron Sorkin or something. God, i hope not. But, in this day and age, it seems, such things are popular, so I wouldn't fault them if they went that route.

      If they cast Dick Cheney as Big Jim Rennie, a coup of sorts will have been won by the forces of awesome. As totally impossible as that idea is, of course, I'm rooting for it.

      I wouldn't have minded "Barbie" so much (I was able to tune out "Dinky" in Everything's Eventual/ The Dark Tower, after all, though neither would be names I'd choose were I in the driver's seat) if Junior and Carter hadn't said "Baaaaaaaaaarrrrbie" everytime they said it. That brought the irritation to a new (avoidable) level!

      Delete
  2. Ahhhh, Under the Dome, my old nemesis. No seriously, it's cool that you think it's mostly okay (if not perfect), I just found it a let down, one of the rare examples of King phoning it in.

    Anyway, on a related note, here's a link to that Free Press book. It's written by a guy named Hilaire (pronounced Hill-air) Belloc, along with first a link to a New York Times article that puts Belloc an his book into something like perspective, I'm not quite sure if the article has got him right.

    NY Times: http://vimeo.com/7761166
    The funny thing is the article is written by a "Times Editorial Observer", which means an employee of the paper. Just seems odd to me, for whatever reason I can't put a mark on.

    Here's the Free Press book courtesy of Internet Archive:
    http://archive.org/stream/cu31924013585074#page/n7/mode/2up

    Here also is a lik to a page I thought you'd find interesting. It has to do with a memo from the Citigroup corporation that somehow found it's way online. I thought it worth inclusion as an idea of the kind of people in control of our economy. This link may Piss...You...OFF!

    http://politicalgates.blogspot.com/2011/12/citigroup-plutonomy-memos-two-bombshell.html

    Finally, a link I wished I'd included in the last blog entry, one that stirs more debate. WARNING: if you have not seen the Prisoner series in it's entirety, DO NOT WATCH THIS FIRST, SPOILERS CENTRAL! SERIOUSLY!

    http://vimeo.com/7761166

    Be seeing you.

    ChrisC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apologies, here's the Times link for an outline of Belloc's book.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/18/opinion/18tue4.html

      ChrisC

      Delete
    2. That Belloc book sounds great; I'll definitely be Project Guttenberg-ing some of his works.

      In general, it's amazing to me how specific and comprehensive our warnings from history (not to mention outright lessons) are, and how merrily we jog along the roads, nevertheless, laid out for us by those. And when I say roads, I mean "combines" and "slaughter chutes!"

      I look fwd to watching that Prisoner video, thanks! That show was so ahead of its time. Hey, you never answered me: did you watch/ enjoy the reboot with Ian Mackellan and Jim Cavaziel? (And all the Brian Wilson music)

      The Citigroup memos got a lot of attention from G Edward Griffin's Reality Zone, so I saw them in all their plutocratic glory a ways back. I subscribe to the RZ's Unfiltered News, which, while I don't agree with it 100% (probably my level of agreement is somewhere around 72%), is always a welcome weekly read. Anyway, I wasn't surprised by the info therein; it's the name of the game in a central bank-determined economy. The American economy in particular used to be the golden goose; now it's a pinata party. Sadly, people still don't know how badly they've been swindled nor how engineered it was. The movie Margin Call did a pretty good job of presenting how things work without actually indicting them; for a mainstream flick, I was surprised. (Definitely a good movie, if you haven't seen it)

      Suffice it to say, once you unplug from the matrix and confront economic reality ("the tragic absurdity of our situation," as someone once said) it becomes increasingly infuriating and baffling to see how it's treated in the news/ from our politicians. Now that Ron Paul's stepped down, I doubt anyone will ever ask the Fed Reserve Chairman (or the American people) relevant questions/ make an attempt to educate them again. We're on the road to nowhere, as the song goes.

      And with that cheery little sermon...! Off to shovel the walk.

      (The 45 minute video Money As Debt does a great job giving an overview of some of the above, but the reigning champ is the admittedly-low-production-value The Money Masters. As with GEG, my level of agreement with either isn't 100% (probably around 85%) but it's essential info and delivered very accessibly.)

      Delete
  3. "Hey, you never answered me: did you watch/ enjoy the reboot with Ian Mackellan and Jim Cavaziel? (And all the Brian Wilson music)"

    (Sounds of a chainsaw starting up followed by sound of a 2000 Prisoner package being sliced and diced)

    Me: WHAT? I'm sorry, I can't hear ya over the chainsaw, WHAAAT?!

    For me though, the two big issues for the Cavazeil/Mackellan failure were twofold.

    First was the most important element, the ending and ultimate nature of the village. Without giving anything away, I can say that both were a major let down in this case. At the same time I was almost immediately not surprised.

    Aside from the fact that part of the whole mystique of the original is that the real location and nature of the village remain an enigma, thus illustrating the idea that sometimes explanations aren't required (something Lost and Fringe seem to forget).

    Also, while the 2000 Prisoner is a load of crock, it is nonetheless one with it's times, in that the ending is perfectly in keeping with the kind of corporate zeigeist that exists in today's media. In other words, take the fictional audience for the hunger games and this version of Prisoner would be right up their alley.

    However, while the original is ultimately timeless, this one is forever dated and doomed to forgetability.

    In a way, this serves as the perfect illustration of what I meant by the difference between inspiration and invention.

    It's a shame this blog has to end though, not planning on doing a thing with it when you reach the last book?

    Be seeing you.

    ChrisC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah that's a pretty accurate description of the Mackellan/Cavaziel one. I enjoy aspects of it, but it's, well, you pretty much nailed it.

      I'll still add some posts to this, but I don't think I'll take on a specific long-range project like this King's Highway one, for awhile. I'll probably just add some reviews or worst-to-best lists. I've always wanted to rank all of the Star Treks, for example, and I've got a few blogs in mind for those, and I'll review Before Watchmen, which I've been getting since it came out but have been waiting to read until they're all done.

      Stuff like that. So, there'll be stuff to read, just it'll be fewer and further between, most likely. I appreciate the interest - y'all come back now, y'hear?

      If I did take on another long-range project, in the future, (outside of my own fiction, which I've been trying to get back to, and want to devote more time to) I've had some ideas. Some of them include: a survey of all supplementary Indiana Jones material, like the comics/ Find Your Fate books/ the rumored but never made Cave of Death/ Lego Indy, Young Indiana Jones, etc.; reading all the Patrick O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin books start to finish; reviewing all the Horatio Hornblowers, etc; a start-to-finish sweep of James Michener; a complete re-watch of Michelangelo Antonioni; reviewing all or as many giallos as I can; the list goes on. But I don't see myself taking any of those on in the immediate future! They'd be fun, though.

      Delete
  4. Here's a link to a blog entry at Talk Stephen King featuring a link to the new Under the Dome miniseries site.

    http://talkstephenking.blogspot.com/2013/02/under-dome-superbowl-ad.html

    Here's also is a heads up.

    The first thing you are asked to do when you enter the site is type in your home address. So, not knowing better, you do it, and you see the dome riding over the sky...

    ...Only to watch it settle on the perfect drive by picture of your house and the neighborhood it's in.

    I don't think I can convey how creepy it is to see the place you live, the place only friends and family are allowed in, plastered over the internet for all to see.

    My response: (a horrified whisper) Who the fuck ARE you people....

    ChrisC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good lord, that IS creepy. The view on mine was literally right across the street from my home office, i.e where I sit right now. (I'm afraid to turn my head and look out the window... okay, I just did. No one lurking around taking pictures of my apartment. At least... not now.)

      Delete