Monday, January 18, 2010

Ordinary people, extraordinary times

So I finally finished my Stephen King phase. I believe it began on Sunday. And now it's over.

I read the Amazon reviews. I watched the trailer. I stuck it out to the end. I am dissatisfied.

The story in a nutshell: On an ordinary day in October, a dome that matches perfectly the town borders comes down over Chester's Mill, Maine, trapping everyone in the town. If I remember correctly, the population was around 2,000. Of course, everyone gone out for the day can't return. And 1076 pages and about a week later, something like 25 remain thanks to accidental Dome encounters, murder, suicide and disaster of epic proportions.

A lot of the story is exactly what you'd expect. Perhaps the single man who could prevent immediate degeneration is killed as soon as the Dome falls. Crooked politician Big Jim Rennie takes control over the crooked police force and begins filling it with more of his own men. And each person with the goodness and courage to stand up to him is eliminated quickly, efficiently, and ruthlessly, and often due to his or her own bad decision making. The cause of the Dome is undetermined but all efforts by the US military to rescue the people of Chester's Mill fail.

And if you're going to read it, stop here...because here's where it falls apart for me. King in an interview on Amazon mentions his ecological message. That's easy to get. The people of Chester's Mill destroy themselves, mainly through making it impossible to live in the Dome. And when we destroy this planet under the dome that we currently live on, there's no hope of rescue. And I get that people under these conditions make terrible choices, show who they really are. The political message: we shouldn't be sheep. We shouldn't give up our rights because of threats from the government. And I'm not sure whether it's a message, but this idea that people in power who spout religious phrases use them to calm anxious minds or stir up passions...and are completely untrustworthy. But here's the thing: I read for story, not messages. Give me one and I'll try not to complain to loudly about the messages.
The town and the people are crystal clear. SK does a fabulous job of building a place and introducing people that you know on a huge scale. But the story is just...not right. There's a comparison to ants under a magnifying glass. No one in Chester's Mill created the Dome, the government didn't do it and couldn't fix the source is extraterrestrial.  "I like the idea of a dome. Now how do I get it there? Oh, yeah, some aliens. I'll just plop them right here." Rusty, the physician's assistant left alone to run the hospital, mentions burning ants with a magnifying glass as a boy. He stopped. From there, Julia determines that these aliens in the box who appear to be children are treating them like the ants and all they have to do is beg to lift the dome. After all, Rusty stopped because the ants begged him to.

This just doesn't fit. He stopped because the conscience that we begin learning from day one kicked in. The ants never spoke to him, but his sense of rightness did. That's all. That's what made him stand up to Big Jim even at major risk to his family. But in this story, we don't know these aliens at all. Do they know right or wrong, pity or compassion? Who knows? But  Julia begs, the Dome lifts, the survivors are saved. Just like that.

I read through serious, super gritty realism, through murders, beatings, threats of torture, abuse, riots, and the death of not one but two dogs as well as all of the rest of the animal population because I expected some cool source and resolution for this dome thing. It's a world with no God, no hope, no lightness, no redemption...nothing but the good and evil that come from men...and some childlike aliens in a box who were just waiting to be asked to raise the Dome. Too simple, too quick, too...not right. That's what I think about this ending. I read a review saying that the ending had very little to do with why King wrote this and that any of 15 endings might have been inserted. His message was key, the story incidental. I want to try one of those other choices next time.
If you've read it and I've missed the point completely (a real possibility as I was always reading with one foot out the door after Clover was shot), leave me a comment to clear it up.

1 comment:

Barb said...

Thanks for the "heads-up." I used to be a huge SK fan but he started getting too bizarre even for me. Every once in a while he'll be okay again but generally I don't bother anymore.