(A million trigger warnings for rape and violence)
Well, I guess I’m not a Stephen King fan.
My first foray into King’s cannon was through movies (Carrie, Christine) and the movie The Green Mile was what got me to read my first King novel. I read The Green Mile at least 10 years ago, if not longer (probably longer), and I don’t honestly remember it that well, but I remember liking it. Then a friend suggested The Girl that Loved Tom Gordon, which I also enjoyed. And then I promptly forgot about him for the next 10 years.
I came across King’s novels again when a friend of a friend reviewed 11/23/63 on her blog. It didn’t sound too scary for my preferences, and she loved it, so I gave it a try. And I LOVED it. It was a beautiful, fun novel. I thought, Oh! Maybe I’m, like, a fan! Bring on the Stephen King.
So I picked up the first couple of volumes of the Dark Tower Series. And gave up a quarter of a way through the third one. (Was it just me, or were those books insanely boring?)
Not to be deterred I decided I needed to read something a little more recent, like 11/22/63 was. So I tried Under the Dome next.
And within the first 30 pages realized I had somehow stumbled upon the most misogynistic, ugliest book I’ve ever read. There is not a woman in the cast of characters that doesn’t exist to be oogled at, raped, killed, or pined for by a man. Not one. The incessant use of female gendered slurs is frightening. The violence that happens before the novel even gets going is explicit and gratuitous and nauseating. And that violence pops up over and over again in the book. Women in this book seem to exist simply to show the reader just how evil the evil people are, and worse than that, it’s written in such a matter-of-fact, incessant way that you are only vaguely sure that the book isn’t actually condoning the behavior. And the women that aren’t raped, murdered, assaulted, or abused (there are a few), are either one of the “good guys” love interests, or are introduced first to the readers through descriptions of their breasts (probably both).
Slightly less nauseating but even more ubiquitous, there is this underlying and never-ending river of fat shaming. I don’t even normally notice this in media, but there were so many comments on the size, shape, and weight of people and their body parts, you couldn’t miss it.
I can not recommend this book.
Why then, you may ask, did I finish reading it?
Honestly, for the most part, I think I really just wanted there to be some redemption. I needed there to be some redemption, in order to get the bad taste out of my mouth. So I kept going, and kept hoping.
(Mild spoilers here on out)
I know a lot of people like this novel. It’s premise is pretty interesting, after all. A great big dome suddenly encapsulates a small town. How will the people respond? Who will take charge? Some of the reactions seem fairly obvious – family members of those that were killed when the dome came down are distraught, some commit suicide. People are scared and conspiracy theories about government experiments and terrorists abound. Local politicians try to exploit those fears to retain (and maintain) control.
But instead of going with just that, King goes full on into tiny dictator mode. His politician doesn’t just exploit fear, he is an international drug kingpin, he murders, he stages riots and puts guns into the hands of 17 year old boys to serve as “interim police”. Are you kidding me?
His “police” are raping women and trying to cover it up, his son has a massive brain tumor that is making him violent and crazy, and the bodies are piling up and it’s only been a few days.
And despite all the violence and misogyny and fat-shaming, here’s where we come to the even bigger problem with this novel. It’s just not good. His villains are so villainous that they are monsters rather than humans. His heroes are one dimensional and caricatures of stereotypes. And my biggest issue? His themes are convoluted. I have no idea what I was supposed to take away from this novel (other than feeling slightly gross).
As the group of heroes discover what is causing the dome, they reflect on the moments in their own lives that they are ashamed of. When they were bullies or bullied. These moments have potential, it’s the only time these characters begin to round out. But when you look at the novel as a whole, the theme doesn’t hold. Is King telling us that everyone has flaws but deserves their humanity and dignity? I think so, in those moments. Perversely, he even gives Junior Rennie, the most murderous of our villains, an excuse for his behavior – a brain tumor.
But how does that square with the main villain, Big Jim Rennie? He has no excuse for his behavior but greed. Does he deserve humanity?
And how can the author expect us to believe that when he doesn’t give the victims any humanity himself? His writing denigrates the women who are raped as much as the characters do. He kills off all of his villains in a way that feels as though he thinks he deserves their fiery ends.
This felt like reading Twilight. It wasn’t good. I didn’t like it. In fact, there was a lot I actively hated about it. But I kept reading until when I finally finished the book, I liked myself a little bit less for reading it.
K’s rating of Under the Dome, by Stephen King: 2 mangoes