Book Reviews

Book Review: Under the Dome – Stephen King’s Best Work in Years

It’s been a number of years since I picked up a Stephen King book and enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Under the Dome.  I actually heard positive things from a few people before I went out and picked up this massive 1,074-page missive.  It’s not a book to easily curl up with while you’re sitting in a chair by the pool or the ocean, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to finish it.  Unlike other novels, where I can’t stand the wait and cut to the ending before going back to where I left off, this was one I had to read all the way through. Trying to cut ahead left me totally lost.

The premise is that a small western Maine town by the name of Chester’s Mill is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by having a huge dome placed over it.  Dale Barbara was on his way out of town and missed escaping by a matter of feet – and escaping is the right word to use in this situation.

The problem isn’t the dome itself, which seems to be indestructible to all the weapons we can throw at it (I especially liked the description of the missile flying low over the town of North Conway, NH which is where I live), but the townspeople themselves.  There has been something simmering beneath the idyllic appearance of the town for some time now, and once the dome is in place it comes to the surface.

What kept it in check before? A few good people and the fear of being caught.  The town’s police chief is a casualty of the dome, leaving the police force under his inept and easily led second in command.  Easily led is important because the man pulling the strings of everything in town has some plans to set in motion.  “Big Jim” Rennie is a local used car salesman who’s not stupid by any means.  Although a prominent citizen and one of the town’s selectmen, he’s been content to have other people in the limelight while he pulls the strings behind the scenes.

Under the Dome showcases what happens to people in this scenario.  I can’t say it’s hard to predict because things are set in motion and the outcome is about what most people would expect.  However, the cause and effect are interesting to see play out, especially as King doesn’t let the reader in on all there is to know about all the residents of Chester’s Mill.

King probably could have used a better editor on the book, but it’s hard to argue what isn’t necessary.  There’s a large cast of characters and King gives each of them depth and plenty of background for the reader to feel like they know them.  There’s a little about what’s going on in the outside world but it’s all a reflection of the dome itself as there are snippets of our government’s response as well as the media.  Although the action takes place over just a number of days, it feels like it’s much longer due to all that happens.  Would it be easier to digest if it took longer for the situation to deteriorate? Perhaps, but I think that is partly what is frightening to read.  We all would like to think we know our friends and neighbors and how they would react in a crisis.  Under the Dome is a demonstration of just how little people knew about the people who lived around them.

What does take a bit away from Under the Dome is how much political affiliation seems to dictate whether a character is good or bad.  I understand where King is coming from since he likely reads the same letters to the editor that are printed in our local paper (his summer place is in nearby Lovell), but even he should realize that life has more shades of gray than black and white.  I was surprised he waited so long to bring up the environmental changes caused by the dome being in place as I thought there would have been many more issues with that early on.  I also wasn’t too crazy about the ending, both what was causing the dome and how it was resolved.

Above anything else, though, Under the Dome is a case study of us as humans.  Take away our creature comforts for no apparent reason, and what happens to us?  Are we really that willing to surrender our thought processes to others the way King illustrates here?  It’s actually a pretty scary proposition and I’m happy to see King getting it so good again. I’ve missed this quality in other recent novels from him.

5 replies »

  1. Seems like a very interesting premise. I would certainly be interested to see how the environmental aspects would play out. 1,074 pages seems a bit much though. I have to think about it. Thank you for a great review.

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