Under the Dome

WARNING – PLOT SPOILER

I will never look at ants in the same way again. In fact, I promise not to stamp on them if they’re where I don’t want them to be.

The plot of this one was the usual Stephen King fare really. And this is not a criticism. That’s why we all read him. There are the usual bad guys who have not so hidden agendas. There are lots of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances trying to make sense of a world that has gone crazy. There are lots of people who seize the opportunity when bad things happen, to make things better for themselves. In the end, it comes down to Stephen King knowing a lot about human nature. He makes his characters believable by showing us incrementally what they do and feel and how they act toward others and of course, he then puts them under the magnifying glass and shines the sun in.

The small New England town of Chester’s Mill, just near Castle Rock has just become sealed off from the rest of America by a giant dome. The dome is invisible and of course at first several people die as they realise that they are in fact, in a massive upturned jar. The dome is just permeable enough to let air in and out, but not enough to allow winds and breezes from outside. Within five days the air inside the dome is becoming unbreathable. The people are living in a society ruled by a self-serving used car salesman come selectman Jim Rennie who is obviously becoming more and more megalomaniacal by the minute. You are either with Big Jim, or against him. You really don’t want to be against him.

Dale Barbara, Barbie, is our hero. He is an ex-soldier who became trapped in the town because of ill luck. He’d worked there for a while, but was leaving after one too many run ins with the local hoods led by Big Jim’s son Junior. Barbie is chosen by the US govt. to take over Chester’s Mill during the emergency. Big Jim outmanoeuvres him and jails him on a trumped up charge of murder and then proceeds to create him as a boogyman figure to rally the town under his own leadership. The fact that Big Jim has a finger in every pie helps him in this. Everyone, it seems, owes him something.

What is worse is that some of the people who believe Barbie’s innocence, including Julia Shumway, the town’s newspaper editor, find out that there is something strange going on out on a hill outside town and it may have something to do with the Dome. The rest of the plot details the race against time to find out what is causing the Dome and how to get the town back on track. They all need to do this without Big Jim knowing and without the police force of young thugs that he has tracking them down.It wouldn’t be a King novel without lots of violence and horror, but he makes it come from the people, not so much from the creators of the Dome. The twist at the end, which I won’t give away completely, was interesting, but I did feel slightly let down by it.

The tension is suitably tight and the action is, if at times predictable, also fascinating. This will rank up there with the likes of The Stand as an epic tale told by a great writer of genre fiction.

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August: Osage County

I was dreading this play somewhat as it was midweek, I was tired and I knew that it was a three hour behemoth of a thing and that I had to get up early the next day.
However, it was an amazing piece of theatre. Robyn Nevin and cast were exceptionally funny in their brutality to each other. For my money the play was stolen by Barbara (Jane Menelaus) who was trying to hold it all together until her own family fell apart as well. Her attempts to stop younger sister Ivy (Rebekah Stone) from telling her mother that she is in love with Little Charlie, who it turns out is very wrong for her indeed, are the highlight of an exceptional play. The parents who are ‘growing old disgracefully’ have had their moments until Beverley, the father of the brood, leaves and dies, having planned the whole suicide even down to getting an aide in to help his wife who is drug addled and ill. The family all get togetherm for the suicide and this is where it all unravels.
Highly recommended

Confderacy of Dunces

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The genius in this case is the hilariously pompous and delusional Ignatius J Reilly. He is a grossly fat, incredibly self-centred and self indulgent lazy 30 year old, who still lives with his mother. Ignatius sees the modern world as the antithesis of all he holds dear being an adherent of Boethian ideals. The sheer hypocrisy of this character is astounding and yet the reader really is drawn into following Ignatius’ lumbering progress through finding dead end jobs, which he sabotages, to winding up pushing a hot dog cart around New Orleans in his attempt to do as little as possible. However, as little as possible ends up creating as big a possible mess as could be imagined. We are drawn into the mind of a lunatic who believes that he is the only sane person around, and yet all we can do is laugh uproariously.

His slovenly and pathetic mother eventually sees a future for herself away from her son’s cruel treatment and eventually succeeds in driving him away from his self imposed cloister of a bedroom. When he takes off with the wonderfully named Myrna Minkoff we cannot but wonder what a sequel would have made of his adventures in New York.

This book is not one to read in a quiet place, you will end up bursting out into laughter. It is incredibly clever and highly recommended reading.

In the Lake of the Woods

Tim O’ Brien’s absorption with Vietnam continues in this murder mystery. John Wade has just lost the election that he has been working towards by a landslide. He and his wife Kathy decide that in order to retreat and lick their wounds as well as to patch up their troubled marriage, they need to take off to the Lake of the Woods. We are introduced to the characters in this setting and then told that Kathy would soon disappear. This is where things start to get interesting in this novel.
The structure of the novel allows the reader to build up a gradual profile of John and his past as well as his relationship with Kathy. We see an increasingly disturbed individual who has suffered trauma, both in the loss of his father and then in Vietnam. He uses tricks, sleight of hand and mirrors to escape the unpleasant facts of his existence. the novelist also uses these same tricks, sleights of hand and mirrors to draw the readers into a kind of whodunnit, which is really a whodunnwhat, as we never really find out what happened to Kathy.
The suspense is carefully managed and we are pulled through the narrative by the chapters entitled ‘hypothesis’ and ‘evidence’ which are interspersed with the history of John’s life.
It is a fascinating read, but as it offers no easy answers some may find it frustrating.

Frost/Nixon

The interview between David Frost a lightweight chat show host and Richard Milhous Nixon, the president who came close to impeachment over Watergate, was highly anticipated by some, and laughed at by others. The idea that someone as innocuous as Frost could pull off such an important interview was viewed as spurious. This play takes on the whole history of the interview, from the initial overtures by Frost to Nixon, right through to the aftermath of what became a David and Goliath story.
Frost is played brilliantly in the Melbourne production by John Adam, who captures his dapper image, vanity and optimism, very well. Nixon was brilliantly portrayed by Marshall Napier whose aggressive manipulation of the interview was skilfully done. The cast were sure footed, although there were a few blunders on the opening night, which the audience forgave because the play worked so well.

I was unfamiliar with the full details of the Watergate affair and as I like to go in cold to plays, I had not done any research. I did worry that it would go right over my head as moments in Stoppard’s Rock and Roll had, but I had nothing to worry about. The writer carefully filled the audience in and left nothing out.

The upcoming film of this play should be entertaining; and good political stories aren’t always.

The Road

Wow! No wonder this one won an award.
It was bleak, terrifying and nervy. At several times in the narrative you find yourself really edgy at the fate of this father and his young son. This post modern-post apocalytic fable really creates a link between these protagonists and the reader. We immediately place ourselves in the narrative and it’s an uncomfortable experience. However, this is balanced with real hope. The boy and his father love each other so much that this is the only thing that keeps them going throughout the horrors they experience and bear witness to. Their journey takes them across an America that is dead in every way that matters. The only survivors prey on each other as there is nothing left. The boy and his father have to avoid all human contact if they are to reach their destination. At several points in the narrative I found myself wondering what I would do in this situation. Would I just give up? What is is about human nature that keeps us going? Is it the philosophical idea of the will to live?
It’s hard to believe that I read this in one evening. It was truly unputdownable. Read it, I won’t give away the ending.
*****