Monday, October 1, 2012

Read Along With Me: Stephen King's Under the Dome (Part 1)

For the first time in my life this semester, I have a commute that's longer than 30 minutes.  I've been very lucky in the past to be able to walk or take a bus, but the logistics of my schedule this fall make such things impossible.  And as I got ready for the semester, I was dreading it, in no small part because of this commute.

Then someone suggested, "Why don't you listen to books as you drive?"

This suggestion has been a lifesaver.  My commute has gone from something I was dreading to one of the best parts of my day.  I started by listening to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (which I enjoyed--I'm a sucker for a narrative with multiple threads, and I thought the ending of this one was quite well done), but now, thanks a suggestion in the "Afterword" of Stephen King's 11/22/63, I'm reading King's Under the Dome, a story about a small town in Maine that gets trapped under a giant, impenetrable dome.  Or, rather, I'm listening to it.

And I'm loving it.

For the next month or two, I'm going to post some of my reflections on listening to this novel, with the invitation for you to either read/listen along with me or share your thoughts if you've already read it.  One of the hardest things for me about listening to the book rather than reading it is that I don't have a good sense of where I am in the book, physically, and it's hard to remember chapter numbers when what I really care about is the story.  So I'm going to put a brief summary of where I left off, story-wise, at the end of each of these posts--these summaries will be as spoiler-free as possible, though the speculations after them won't be.  Also, please don't post anything in the comments that would spoil things for me!

Here's what I think so far:

First, it's taken me a while to get used to not having a physical book in front of me.  I'm someone who is a very visual learner, and when I read, I remember where things are on the page when I read them--then, when I go back to find something or read a passage again, I just look at that part of each page to find the paragraph pattern that I remember.  Obviously, I can't do that when listening to a book; since I'm driving while I listen, I'm not even really able to go back and listen to passages again very easily. 

Apart from that, though, I'm finding it a mostly pleasant experience to be read to.  It forces me to slow down and enjoy the story, rather than rushing through to find out what happens, and it brings back the feeling of being read to as a child.  Overall, it's a very comforting and calming experience, which is a big thing to say, given that I'm in traffic for much of my listening time.

And in fact, I think this experience is training me to be a better listener and to pay closer attention to details the first time around.  There is one moment in Under the Dome when Rory Dinsmore rides his ATV up to the dome where the narrative perspective pulls way back--up until this point, the story was told mostly from the third-person limited perspective, following various characters around the town of Chester's Mill.  This pulling back had the effect of pulling me up into the air and allowing me to look down on the people below, and I think it was really enhanced by hearing it read, rather than reading it myself.

There are only two other major concerns I have so far.  The first is that I find some of the voices of the characters rather distracting.  Certainly, this is not King's fault, and honestly, it's probably not even the fault of Raul Esparza, who reads the novel.  It's just that I hate the voice of Big Jim Rennie so much.  And yes, while I realize that that's probably the point, since he is meant to be hated, it grates on my nerves and occasionally makes me wish I was reading the book by myself, so that I wouldn't have to listen to him so much.

The other concern comes from something else that is highlighted more by hearing the book read out loud--the language of violence against women.  Having to listen to slurs against some of the women in the novel, or to be privy to the thoughts of men who are thinking about certain women in disgusting and offensive ways, was almost too much for me.  For the first few days of listening to the book, hearing so much of what Junior Rennie thought about various women in the novel almost outweighed my desire to keep reading.  The introduction of Julia Shumway as a point of view character definitely helped things in this department, but such language still makes me uncomfortable, particularly when it's read out loud and I'm forced to listen to it, rather than being able to skim over it.

I've left off listening right before the Air Force is going to shoot a cruise missile at the dome.  Here are some questions/speculations that I currently have:
  • First, and perhaps most distracting: how does this town still have internet access?  From what I know, internet is mostly provided through cable lines or phone lines, both of which would have been severed by the dome's appearance.  I kind of doubt that everyone in town would have satellite internet, and this book was published before everyone had data plans.  I'm torn between thinking this is a mistake (unlikely) or somehow connected to the reason the dome went up in the first place.
  • It seems that there are two main things that will drive the plot forward: figuring out what happened and seeing who is going to die next.  One of these looks to the past, but the other looks to the future--a key element in making sure the novel doesn't bog down.  I figure that Barbie and Big Jim Rennie are safe, since their power struggle is another tension that gives shape to the narrative, as is Julia Shumway (since she's the only major female point of view character, at least so far).  But given the recent death of Dr. Haskell, it seems that no one else is.  At this point, I'm not sure who will be next--probably Linda Everett, since she's a good police officer and has two small children.
  • And finally, here is what I think is going on: it's clear that Big Jim is making meth, and my guess is that the money from his meth trade is what is keeping "Jesus Radio" running.  But what I wonder is this: what if the radio is somehow responsible for the dome going up?  The large antennae would make this technically possible, perhaps, and the continuous mention of this station throughout the narrative, and the fact that it's the only radio station that residents can now get, makes me think that it's a very likely suspect.
That's all for now!  I'll keep you posted as I keep listening, and I'd love to hear what you think, too.  Just don't spoil anything for me!