The King and I, Again.

Sometime ago, I celebrated my return to hard-core fiction reading with this post on my completion of Stephen King’s The Stand. In that post, I made a reference to his latest novel – Under the Dome, which I thought I would skip, given its mammoth length (1074 pages edited). My long flights and hesitancy to carry the heavy Arthur Clarke’s collection of short stories implied that by the time I was in LA (3 hrs from Austin) I had devoured Agatha Christie’s novel (Sad Cyprus) and I was afraid that the Wodehouse that I carried (The Small Bachelor) would not last through the plethora of flights that I had left (the Wodehouse stood at a measly 260 pages, paperback, pocketbook). I realized that I needed another book and against my general rule of buying only those books that I will read multiple times (non-fiction, philosophy, classic fiction – Dickens et al.); I decided to stop by the bookstore at LA to get one.

Even before I went into the store, I knew what I wanted. I knew that the only way I would feel ok about shelling out ~22$ for fiction would be if the book was HUGE! That left me with only one possible option – Stephen King’s Under the Dome. There was also a possibility of picking up Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but given the fact that I did not enjoy Cryptonomicon (I picked that up in Spain, when I had exhausted George RR Martin’s fantasy fiction) as much, I decided to go with King. Now, if you have read my previous post (always assuming that someone reads the stuff that I put up – that someone could as well be me at a future time!) you would know that I had my reservations about King. After reading the un-edited Stand, I was a bit put-off. However, I decided to risk it and picked up the mammoth Under the Dome. This was partly because I wanted a big book, partly because I generally have a soft corner for King and partly because the cover was so darn attractive ( I know, I know, book-cover-judge….). I have to say, I did not regret this decision at all!

This book was superbly paced. As King says in his afterword – he has tried and succeeded in keeping the pedal floored. The book literally runs through the story (quite unlike the un-edited Stand) and I could not put the book down! This unwieldy book tested my muscular strength when I was not allowed to pull down the tray in front of me on the plane, and then tested my geometry skills as I tired to rest it at an angle so that it would not fall when I was allowed to pull the tray down. More importantly, it did not test my patience at all. It was possibly one of the best books of King that I had read. There was a coherent story, no meandering and a race from start to finish. Given that I enjoyed the book so much, I was wondering what other people thought about it and so I went on to Amazon.

As is my nature, I checked the 1-star reviews first. I was surprised to find any criticism of the book, but when I went through them I realized that they were right. Most of the characters were one-dimensional and had clean shades of black and white (generally King has an ability to create grey-er ones). Many of the reviews though, were pissed at the fact that every ‘Christian’ in the book was shown to be evil while the atheists and non-fanatics were good. I am not sure King is an author you want to read so much into. He just writes fiction! One review was particularly insightful – it made a comparison between the characters and George Bush – Dick Cheney and pointed out that the book itself was a fictionalization of the Republican era. Now, I did not see this when I read the book (possibly because I do not look for deep meaning in King’s novels, after all he is not Kafka!) but the reviewer was seemingly bang-on about that.

General criticism aside, I would highly recommend this book. This is not literature, mind you. This is a thoroughly enjoyable fictional tale that is well-paced and extremely well written!

This takes my King list down to 3 + 3 dark tower books. King is releasing another book this November – man this guy can write!

Oh, and on another note – I am very proud of myself. In the last month, I completed The Stand, Under the Dome, Archer’s Paths of Glory, 2 books by Wodehouse and am half-way through Ken Follett’s latest (expect a post on this!). Finally, it looks as if I am back to my self from around 4 years ago! Let’s see how long this lasts though – there are a host of shows that I need to catch up on this fall; and of course, there is always work!

ps. Posted early in the morning on a Sunday – thanks to jet lag, no sleep; the brain is not in a position to work as well!!

pps. The title of these posts is a reference to the movie The King and I, based on the book – Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret London (semi-fictional).