Under the Dome
Copyright 2009 by Stephen King
Gallery Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
Having successfully completed 11/22/63, I felt empowered to pick up another of Stephen King’s gigantic novels, Under the Dome. I read this book as the now-defunct TV series was just coming out and I didn’t watch a single episode, so everything in this review is related to the book alone. My default position is that the book must always be better than the movie/television series, and from what I heard about this particular series I don’t think I need to change my position any time soon.
So let’s file Under the Dome in the ‘general apocalypse’ or ‘dystopia’ category, which as you may know is probably my favourite genre. I’ve written previously about it in Zombie Wars: Fact or Fiction and in my reviews of The Circle and of The Rule of Three. In Under the Dome, the situation might more aptly be described as “temporary” apocalypse, since the real world continues to exist outside the Dome and only the unfortunate citizens living in Chester’s Mill suffer the apocalyptic-type consequences.
The novel jumps right into the action, a welcome change from my last King read (11/22/63) where we had to wade through chapter after chapter of background story before the hunt for Lee Harvey Oswald actually begins. On an average day in Chester’s Mill, an invisible dome comes crashing down around the town limits, knocking planes out of the sky and harshly dividing families in half – sometimes literally as well as figuratively.
Naturally, it takes awhile for everyone to realize and understand exactly what has happened. The comprehension unfolds in a deliciously agonizing fashion, and King shows no mercy as some of his cruelest characters prey on some of their most vulnerable neighbours. What looks on the surface like any normal American small town seems to hold the most twisted and ruthless of citizens – a key feature of any good apocalypse. After all, who’s going to be the Shane / Governor / Negan to your Sheriff Grimes if everyone is as sweet as pie?
Among the key characters are a rebel-type military vet, Dale “Barbie” Barbara and intrepid small-town reporter Julia Shumway. Together they form the yin to the evil yang of James “Big Jim” Rennie and his son “Junior” Rennie (almost everyone’s got to have a nickname in a small town, it seems). Soon after the Dome comes down, Big Jim methodically seizes the town government in his iron, car salesman’s fist – there are no shortages of small town stereotypes here, but somehow they don’t quite become the caricatures they might be under the pen of another author.
These characters are typical of Stephen King’s version of Maine, USA – flawed, simple, determined, and cuckoo-bananas crazy. Under The Dome weaves together a story of human as well as supernatural evil, and Barbie and Julia have to first outwit their fellow humans before tackling the supernatural.
To be honest, the supernatural aspect of King’s stories come a distant second to the human chaos he creates, in my opinion. Having read a few of his apocalypse novels now (a review of The Stand is coming later this month), I have to say that the resolution to some of these sci-fi conundrums always seems a bit anti-climactic for me. However, Under the Dome is probably one of the better ones I’ve read so far. I suppose if I’m going to accept the possibility of a giant invisible dome-fortress imprisoning a town, I have to embrace its supernatural origins and resolution, eh?
In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s another brick of a novel, and getting through it takes commitment, but if you enjoy this genre and if you avoided the TV series, you will probably find it an entertaining read.