Hazel McHaffie

The King’s genius

I’ve had the legendary ‘King of Horror’, American writer Stephen King, in my sights for yonks but only just got around to reading one of his books: Under the Dome. It’s a mammoth 896 pages long but its antecedents intrigued me.

King first tried to write it in 1976 but gave up after two weeks. He began the same story again thirty-one years later, passionate about exploring the ecological and meteorological concerns his plotline presented, but this time the technical problems overwhelmed him. However, the ideas kept niggling, and he eventually co-opted a trusted researcher to thoroughly investigate all the highly technical aspects of his story, and Under the Dome finally materialised, his 58th novel. That’s persistence and commitment, huh?

I’m not going to review it – you can find good analyses on line if you’re interested, but horror and sci fi, brutal murder and gang rape for fun, crudity and graphic violence, really aren’t my thing. I guess I’m in the minority – no, I don’t guess, I know I am! The evidence is there. King has published 59 novels and sold over 350 million copies. His shelves are overloaded with awards and trophies. He’s in my age bracket and still going strong. That’s what success and popularity look like. He just doesn’t happen to be my cup of tea.

Essentially the story is about ‘liberal morality’ and a ‘moderate green sensibility’ versus ‘greed, corruption and fundamentalism’. The first 5% of this brute of a book is devoted to unmitigated death and destruction, recounted in graphic detail as one by one vehicles and people and animals collide with an invisible barrier which has come down and encased a small town in Maine like one of those giant glass domes designed to protect food from dust and insects. Only this one isn’t protective; anything but. By 90% of the way through – I read it on my Kindle – a population of 2000+ residents has been reduced to 32 people; by 97% there are just two dozen left. That’s some death toll! And King was determined to keep his ‘pedal consistently to the metal’ throughout. Only in the last few pages does resolution come, leaving deep philosophical questions about this somewhat allegorical sci-fi tale in its wake.

OK, maybe maybe aliens from outer space aren’t my bag, but hey, no experience is ever wasted on a writer. And one of the things I do seriously envy is his ability to convey so much with such an economy of words. So I thought I’d share a few examples with you.

‘he walked with cartoon caution’
‘shock and denial masquerading as calm control’
‘she never finished the thought, only closed the door on it’
‘sarcasm is her response to fear’
a smile is ‘not turned up to maximum chill
he spoke ‘softly as if to a child in a tantrum’
‘A lackadaisical little breeze cat’s-pawed their cheeks’
‘the family that slays together stays together’
[why was she bullied?] ‘… it was everything, right down to the way my skirts and blouses and even my hair ribbons matched. They wore clothes, I had outfits.’
‘… sixteen months of border warfare between the country of Controlling Parents and the smaller but well-fortified principality of Determined Teenager.’

As for me, persisting, reading every last word of this door-stopper, has encouraged me to return to my own far more pedestrian prose and up the ante! Has to be a good thing if as a consequence readers can lift a few choice phrases from my writing and linger a moment over the philosophical implications. A tough masterclass though!

 

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