I don't blog about every book I read, by a long shot. I don't read as many as Maryelizabeth, but I always have one or two going, and writing about each of them would cut into the time I have available to write my own. But having finished Under The Dome, Stephen King's latest magnum opus (and at 1072 pages, I'm not using that term loosely), I feel obliged to try to sort out my thoughts about it in print.
First, it's incredibly suspenseful, a real page-turner, as they say, in the Stephen King tradition. King has a knack for creating interesting and believable characters and then putting them in the worst sorts of trouble. In this one, the entire town of Chester's Mill, Maine (close to Castle Rock) has been enclosed in what's called the Dome, although it isn't necessarily dome shaped. King swears it's a reworking of an idea he had in 1976, and was not inspired by The Simpsons Movie, but in some ways the situation is similar. King explores it to a depth that Homer and co. didn't, however.
Second, it's exceedingly well-written. If King's career had ended after his early horror novels, he would still have been a huge bestselling author... but would his work still be read in 150 years? Or would those books have disappeared, as most of the popular fiction from 150 years ago has? The good news is that he didn't stop writing, and his style and his concerns have continued to grow and mature. Where once his greatest goal seemed to be to create terror in his readers, now he's addressing larger topics. In this case, I think he's talking about setting aside your past--your disappointments, your humiliations, those moments of memory that stay with you no matter how much you try to shake them--in order to grasp your future. Stylistically, it's a strange book, with a semi-omniscient narrator--able to move freely from one point-of-view into another, even into a dog's POV at some points, but only inside the Dome, never out of it for an instant. And then sometimes the narrator "speaks" directly to the reader (or, since this is Stephen King, to Constant Reader). Those moments pulled me out of the story and reminded me that I was reading a book...but to King's credit, it wasn't long before I was pulled back in again.
I can't discuss the mechanism of the Dome, because that's one of the book's central mysteries, but I will say I thought that was the weakest element of the book, the one thing that didn't convince me. And because it is such a major part of the book, it keeps the book from achieving the heights it otherwise might have. I might have preferred never to know how the Dome came to be, because, frustrating as that might have been, it would not have been as disappointing. Put it this way--there are a number of possible explanations for the Dome. Two of them, in particular, I very much did not want to see as the real solution, and one of those is presented as the answer after all. So that aspect doesn't work for me.
I don't think the book is as strong as Lisey's Story, which was beautifully crafted, and which I think told us a lot about the source of creativity, at least in the case of one of our most creative and gifted writers. But not as good as that still puts it better than 99% of the other books published this year. It's definitely worth reading. Will it still be read in 150 years, and judged as a classic of American literature? Quite possibly.
King is gradually earning the critical acceptance that he has long deserved, but has been denied him (I believe) because he became known first as a genre storyteller rather than simply as a storyteller. And his genre was horror, which is considered, by those who are responsible for doling out critical acceptance, just about as low as a literary effort can get. Not to equate myself with King, but I experience some of the same sort of thing, I think, with my horror novels not getting the attention they might deserve, even within the horror community, because I first became known as a tie-in writer. And if there's any genre lower than horror, of course, it's tie-ins.
But I digress. The people who decide what books are "important" are being forced, through King's sheer talent, to admit him into that club. In our imaginary literature class of 150 years from now, there are a few writers who will be discussed as having been most praiseworthy in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, and yes, that list will include names like Updike and Roth and Atwood, but it will also include King. And when those students are handed the gargantuan Under The Dome to read, they'll grumble at its size. But then they'll read the first couple of pages, and they won't stop until they've turned the last one.
Under The Dome will be published in November. Watch for it.