Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I go through phases when it comes to what I read. Sometimes I'll latch onto an author and read 10 of their books in a row. After that, I might not read a book by the same author for several years. In the case of Stephen King, I haven't read one of his books since 1994. I'm not sure I've been missing anything. I know King is the 800 pound gorilla of the horror genre. He's written some incredible stuff-- at least, that's my recollection-- after all, I haven't read anything authored by the man in over 15 years. But I seem to remember thinking that "The Shining" and "Misery" were pretty terrific. Or did I just like the movies? I also know that "The Shawshank Redemption," one of my favorite movies, was based on a short story by King. But when I tried to read his newest release, Under the Dome, I got about 100 pages in before setting it aside in disgust. I know Stephen King has certain political biases. He's famous for ripping on the military with his infamous quote... I don’t want to sound like an ad–a public service ad on TV–but the fact is that if you can read you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t then you got the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that. It’s not as bright. So that’s my little commercial for that. I also believe that his opinion is based on thin air because I married into a military family and my father-in-law-- career military with an undergraduate degree in science and an MBA-- is a living example that King probably doesn't have much first-hand experience on the subject. But that's not really the issue. King can take exception to the military if he wants, that's his prerogative. But it's also my prerogative to rip on his writing if I think it's crap. I don't expect every author to share my personal biases, and I don't choose authors based on that criteria. I read a lot of books that subtly explore controversial issues like religion and politics and enjoy some more than others. I like it when a writer approaches a topic in a new way and forces me to rethink my positions. That's great writing. Unfortunately, a lot of writers fall back on clichés; and "Under the Dome" is full of them. The most glaring cliché is King's handling of religion. I like stories that explore religion and appreciate when writers that take on the subject of religious hypocrisy. But how many times have we been presented with the stereotype of the bible-quoting hayseed with the porn addiction? King has the character, in all it's formulaic glory in his latest offering. (Petty tyrant with political aspirations and stash of bi-racial porn? Check, check and check. I didn't read far enough to see if he was gay too-- but I wouldn't be shocked) It is such a heavy-handed portrayal that I almost couldn't believe that it was written by a best-selling author. But I've had enough experience reading books by once-skilled authors who no longer think they need an editor; and I wonder if that's what's going on here. I can think of no other explanation. Add to that references to military personnel as "pod people" and quotes from Mao, and well, you've got a book that's left the storytelling behind and entered into political rant territory. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the main character, who so happens to be a former military man (with no love of the military of course) is probably going to closely resemble a character from an Oliver Stone movie; but I didn't get far enough to find out. 100 pages was all it took to drive me away... The thing that bothers me most is that there's a worthy story in "Under the Dome." I can recall what I liked about King's writing as I read the book. The man can tell a story. But when he falls back on cookie-cutter characterizations to tell that story, I'm disappointed. I know people are going to argue that stereotypes are there for a reason, the old they wouldn't be there if there wasn't some truth to them argument, and I get that. But isn't that for amateurs? Shouldn't King, as a seasoned writer, be held to a higher standard? I did wonder if my personal biases were getting in the way of being able to approach the story objectively, but after reading the reviews on the Amazon page for the book, I realize I'm not alone in my assessment. It makes me sad for some reason.