Book Review: Under the Dome

 

Under the Dome

Stephen King 
Hardcover, 1088 pages
Simon & Schuster
November 10, 2009

 

I finally finished it!  I conquered the beast and came out the other side of this monstrous text a little wiser and very much appreciative of fresh air and the open road.  I don’t know what it is about Stephen King, but the man really makes me think.  I know that seems strange when he’s considered the master of horror, but it’s true. 

As far as a synopsis goes, I think short and sweet will fit the bill here…

Chester’s Mill is just an average small town on the American East Coast with average, small town people trying to live their lives.  They play catch with their kids, have neighbors over for barbecues, buy groceries from the local market, and live and breathe in the same free air as the rest of us.  Until a strange phenomenon settles over the town’s borders – a dome-shaped barrier that stretches high into the atmosphere and miles under ground – sealing the Mill’s residents inside with no way to escape.  With no electricity and cut off from the outside world, life under the dome becomes a terrifying nightmare as resources become scarce, air quality deteriorates, and the local government (already a festering hotbed of corruption) abuses its power left and right using the misguided excuse of ” it’s for the good of the town.”

The story shot off like a cannon in the beginning with endless, gory descriptions of the chaos that ensued when the dome appeared – a plane crash, multiple car pile-ups, dead birds and severed limbs littering the ground like confetti.  We’re introduced to some principal characters, like Dale Barbara, aka Barbie, ex-soldier turned short order cook at the Sweetbriar Rose, Julia Shumway, owner of the local newspaper and proud Republican, and Big Jim Rennie, Second Selectman (read puppet master over the First Selectman and entire city council) and used car salesman/drug kingpin. 

After the initial whirlwind of tragedy and adrenalin, things seemed to slow down quite a bit.  I was bombarded with so many new characters back to back that by the time I returned to them later on in the story I’d completely forgotten who they were.  I think this might have been partially my fault.  This baby is a mammoth, with the crushing power of a crocodile’s gaping maw, so I didn’t take (lug) it anywhere and pretty much only read a chapter or two a night before going to sleep (which at times was a huge mistake).  And at just under 1,000 pages it was slow going.  If I had just buckled down and devoted some entire afternoons to reading it, the entire middle section of the book would have flowed much more smoothly and I would have remembered what everyone had been doing when I was last with them.

As usual, I loved the writing style.  The characters were compelling and true to life, and at times it was as if King was pulling me along to watch the events unfold like the ghostly spirits in A Christmas Carol… 

Another night is falling on the little town of Chester’s Mill; another night under the dome.  But there is no rest for us; we have two meetings to attend, and we also ought to check up on Horace the Corgi before we sleep.

Or,

Look, now.  Look and see.  Eight hundred people are crammed against the Dome, their heads tilted up and their eyes wide, watching as their inevitable end rushes toward them.

Once I got past the half-way point, the story picked up again and King began focusing on fewer characters so I could really get invested in them and see through their eyes as the really nasty stuff started going down.  Except for the chapters about Big Jim Rennie and his son Junior.  I loathed turning the page and finding out that I’d have to look through their eyes and hear their thoughts again.  They were both just so sleazy and reprehensible to me, I actually felt dirty and violated after reading their chapters.  Barbie was my favorite and I was surprised to find that I really liked Phil Bushey (aka Chef), even though he was a nut job addict who left his wife and son to take up residence in the Mill’s Christian radio station building (WCIK, owned by Big Jim of course) to cook meth, and lots of it.

I’m absolutely fascinated by this type of story, where some catastrophic event causes society as we know it to break down and we see the true colors of humanity as people struggle to survive.  Will they band together or will it be every man for himself?  Will they retain a sense of individual morality or will mob mentality take over?  Riots, looting, rape, and murder were par for the course after just a few days under the dome.  And the fact that no one knew what the dome was or how it got there (Terrorists?  A government experiment?) made it even more terrifying, especially after the military’s several failed attempts to break through it with massive weapons.

Even though Dome isn’t a classic King horror novel, it still managed to seriously freak me out by touching on one of my biggest irrational fears, something that almost all of my stress dreams are about – the sky, particularly at night.  For some reason I have recurring nightmares about something just being wrong with the sky – stars disappearing or moving, Earth spiraling out of orbit, the sun exploding, or the horizon catching on fire.  This story really touched a nerve, especially when a meteor shower looked like pink stars falling from the sky through the dirty surface of the dome or when children began having seizures and prophesying about the sun being gone. 

But most of all, it made me take a long, hard look at humanity and wonder what I would do and how I would react to some of the situations in the story.  Even with all the pain and damage the people of Chester’s Mill inflicted on each other (and as Julia Shumway pointed out, the dome might have been the catalyst, but they had no one to blame but themselves for the destruction that ensued), I was still left with a sense of hope, however small it may be. 

And looking back I can understand why King chose to delve into the lives of so many minor characters in the beginning of the story.  When the pot finally boiled over and all hell broke loose in the Mill, it was that much more personal, that much more real.  It wasn’t just a crowd of anonymous bystanders meeting their demise.  These people had thoughts and emotions.  They had names.  They had lives.  And I could imagine myself standing as one of them, waiting for the end and being utterly powerless to stop it. 

This book is definitely a heavy investment of time but to me, it was worth it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favorite Stephen King novel, but it was a hell of a ride and I’m glad I went on it.

Have you been Under the Dome?  What did you think of the book?

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4 Comments »

  1. Dave Bara Said:

    1,088 pages! The mass market is gonna be a door stopper! Doesn’t anybody edit this guy any more?

    db

    • Jamye Said:

      Like I said, it’s beast! Initially I thought a couple hundred pages could have been cut, but after finishing it I changed my mind.

      And if you can believe it, in the author’s note King did say that he cut out quite a bit. It could have been even bigger!

  2. Greg Z Said:

    Hey – I liked the Chef, too! He was one of the few (the only?) characters with any depth to him. Though I didn’t buy at all the silly plot twist where the selectman goes to be his tweaking buddy, it still gave us a forum to really see Chef in all his delicious craziness.

    Frankly, I didn’t much like the book and couldn’t wait to be finished. And when it was, well, WORST….ENDING….EVER!!!

    🙂

    • Jamye Said:

      I was afraid you were going to say that! 🙂 Yeah, I wasn’t crazy about Andy Sanders either but Chef was fantastic!

      I didn’t connect to the story that much all through the middle because I wasn’t close to any of the characters, but I still really liked it. I guess I’m just on the same wavelength as the man, lol.

      Did you read Duma Key? That’s my favorite recent King book.


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