About Rowena

Hello, my name is Ro, and I believe that it is possible for you to turn your ordinary life into an extraordinary life - to find true happiness, while remaining, selfless, mindful and compassionate towards other living beings. Here at my blog, I interview and post articles by musicians, writers, world travelers, humanitarians and other amazing individuals who are doing just that. I also share with you various anecdotes about my own totally awesome existence as a musician, composer, journalist, environmentalist, and compassionati. My hope is to connect with you, enlighten you, inspire you and lead you down the path to true happiness. Compassion is always in fashion and it starts with you loving that most important of people, yourself.

November 13, 2010

Ro's Reviews: Under the Dome, by Stephen King

"I will grow, I will become something new and grand, but no grander than I now am.  Just as the sky will be different in a few hours, its present perfection and completeness is not deficient." - Wayne Dyer

I like reading books, and having done a lot to simplify my life I have had a lot more time to read lately than I have had in years.  Reading more is a change for the better that can easily become the norm. It's a cheap and/or free form of entertainment, as well as a great way to learn a lot of cool stuff.  You can check out books from your local library, borrow and exchange with family and friends, get them for $1.50 from places like the Goodwill (and then donate them back when you are done so as not to have a bunch of clutter), even my local Kaiser hospital has paperbacks on sale for fifty cents (and again, they appreciate it when you donate them back).  

The book that is the subject of this review Under the Dome, was loaned to me by a friend, and now that I am done, she wants it back - she always does.  That suits me perfectly in that books can create a lot of clutter, and one can form an emotional attachment to them.  In the article Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books, Robyn Devine of Minimalist Knitter  provides some helpful tips on not letting your passion for reading back fire on you clutter wise.  If your collection is already out of hand, Ms. Devine offers some great tips on tackling those boxes and bookshelves.

On November 10, 2009, Stephen King’s latest novel, Under the Dome, was published. It is a reworking of an unfinished novel he tried writing in 1976, and at 1,074 pages, it is the largest novel he has written since 1986's It.  I just finished reading Under the Dome, - it  took me about a week, but I read fast, read every evening, and hardly ever watch TV.   I like Stephen King’s writing a lot and never got bored with the book, in fact I was turning pages pretty fast the entire time.  I have actually read 20 of King’s 47 published novels, and in order of preference, I would place Under the Dome in third place, after The Stand,  and  Misery, but before The ShiningThe Shining isn't of any particular literary excellence - it merely gives me the perfect creepy little chills.  I have all kinds of reasons why I like the books that I like.   Incidentally, I recently read and liked Salem's Lot for similar reasons.

A synopsis of the book, quoting from King's official website:

"On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away."

Sort of a mini-apocalypse.  Add to the general ugliness, when the Dome falls, a cute little woodchuck is cut in half, and lot of birds and animals die running into it.  People learn very quickly that if you get too close to the Dome with a pacemaker it will explode (imagine having your pacemaker explode in your chest).   The Dome turns out to be impermeable to missiles, chemicals, etc., much to the chagrin of the U.S. Government as well as the best scientists in the world.   Simply put, the people of Chester’s Mill are in it for the long haul, absent sudden death or suicide, of which there is plenty, described in classically King morbid detail. 

King is king when it comes to character development, although some critics pan him for regurgitating the same characters in his novels again and again, and during my research, I stumbled across an internet forum where some real small town people felt disrespected and profiled by King in his works.  Firstly, why shouldn’t King resurrect his old archetypes?  The formula works for him and his fans expect it.  Secondly, the book is a work of fiction and it wouldn’t be any fun if life inside the Dome were utopian in nature – people would think King had lost his touch if the Dome came down, everyone inside was wonderful to each other, and they all wore flower garlands in their hair, much to the envy and wonder of the rest of the civilized world.  Besides, there are just as many every day type virtuous characters in the book as there are villains.  

Be it the power hungry town official, Big Jim Rennie, who is running a secret meth-lab of epic proportions, and instilling chaos in order to stay in power (all in the name of God by the way), his dysfunctional and murderous son Junior, Iraq war hero turned cafe cook Dale Barbara who Rennie hates and frames for murder after he is appointed by President Obama as his inside man, Julia Shumway, the owner/editor of the local newspaper who is set on revealing the truth about Rennie,  the rag tag assortment of good cops/bad cops and rapacious special deputies, the teenage computer wiz and his skateboarder crew, the  frightened yet dedicated hospital staff, the town drunk, or the faith-shaken clergy, King has you rooting for his everyday heroes, and waiting with bated breath for the comeuppance of the various fiends, while hoping for the ultimate rescue of the entire town.

Of particular note is the durability and intelligence of King’s female characters - such as police officer Linda Everett, and town official Andrea Grinnell, in that they grasp the situation with both poise and clarity and bravely take action, while the men are more often than not throwing punches and shooting it out.  There are a lot of great guys though too, naturally war vet Dale Barbara, and I particularly like Rusty the physicians assistant, and Thurston, the 60 year old college professor throw back to the 60's.   The vulnerability of the children trapped within the Dome, some of whose parents die, some of whose parents are on the outside when the Dome comes down, is poignantly tear jerking.   The devotion and heroism of the various "dogs of note" of course had me weeping even harder.  Apparently King likes dogs, although I don’t know if I can forgive him for the death of Pastor Libby’s German Sheppard Clover, or the woodchuck that got cut in half at the beginning.

In his author’s note at the end of the book King speaks of how he was overwhelmed by the technical problems the story presented, especially the ecological and meteorological consequences of the Dome.   King gives credit to his good friend Russ Dorr for his assistance, and takes the bulk of the blame if any mistakes have been made.   Well, there were some vagaries, but I was convinced enough to enjoy the book, and found the descriptions of what happens inside the dome environmentally horrifying.  Relatively little air passes through the Dome from the outside  – and in fact towards the end of the story, huge commercial fans are positioned by the U.S. Military on the outside in an attempt to blow a puff of fresh air in (something they should have thought of much sooner).  Pollen, pollution and filth accumulate on the Dome’s surfaces, causing the view from the inside to be eerily, albeit sometimes fantastically, distorted, and at night the town is amazed by the show of pink instead of white stars.   Electricity is cut off immediately, and so everyone has been using their propane generators.   While touted as environmentally friendly, propane does release greenhouse gases upon combustion friends.   Except for the skateboarders and town librarian who rides her bike everywhere (you go you minimalist girl), people still drive their cars around, notably Big Jim Rennie who drives a big black Hummer.   It gets really hot in there, plants and trees die, the stream dries up, and the air quality goes from bad, to worse, to worst.   

At the end of the book, is the ultimate discovery as to the source of the Dome.   Some critics see the ending as slightly flawed, and I admit to being a little disappointed myself as to how the Dome came to be, however that being said, the book is really about the social, psychological, environmental, small scale apocalyptic experience and the Dome really could have come from anywhere resulting in the same impact.  If Under the Dome had been written structurally similar to The Stand, you would have known from the beginning from whence the Dome came - even if the people in the story did not -  much as in the beginning The Stand an extremely contagious and incurable super flu is unleashed on the world, resulting in a pandemic and worldwide apocalypse, and a similar battle of good versus evil although on a much larger scale.

So I would give this book a thumbs up, with the caveat that I like creepy stuff, and the end may be a ltitle disappointing to some of you after all of that dedicated reading.  Keep in mind too, that I don't mind super long books, and have always been a Stephen King fan.  If you are not into this type of book, I have some recommendations at the bottom of this blog as to other books that might suit you better.

Now this has been one of my longer posts, and I appreciate your having read it all the way through.   As Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist says in his blog post Enjoying Life in the Slow Lane be sure to spend some time being unproductive today.  Skip some rocks, or go climb a tree, or make some mud pies with your kids.  All of these little things are an important part of your leading your own extraordinary lives.



Notes from Ro:

Not sure where to start when choosing what to read? You might want to check out Leo Babauta's blog Zen Habits. Mr. Babauta posts now and then about the books he has read, including  Ten Books that Shaped My Life and 40 Others that I Love, that I found helpful.   I am currently reading Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness, (recommended to me by my good friend Achim as well as being on Mr. Babauta's list)  and will soon read Mr.  Babauta's own book The Power of Less.  When it comes to minimalism and simplifying your life, there are also some great e-books listed in the top of my right sidebar of my blog (e-books don't cause any clutter), under the picture of me playing the piano, where it says "books you might want to check out.  I also recommend the following very popular minimalist blogs:

Far Beyond the Stars, by Everett Bogue  
Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta

Rowdy Kittens, by Tammy Strobel

Becoming Minimalist, by Joshua Becker

 Also here are some blogs by some up and coming bloggers:

Minimalist Knitter, by Robyn Devine

Castles in the Air, by Nina Yau

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