Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Under the Dome by Stephen King

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. (synopsis from Barnes and Noble).
It's hard to know where to start in reviewing this book. This is a monster of a book (1072 pages), with a gargantuan cast and multiple sub-plots weaved together to create a massive story. It's about small town politics, secrets, drugs, greed, families, power...It's a mini-series in a novel!
When the residents of Chester's Mill are instantly and totally separated from the world, they naturally react with confusion and apprehension, but they refuse to believe it will be a long-term crisis. However, as days pass, life under the dome begins to degrade.
Environmental issues, supplies of food and fuel, access to medical care, much-needed professionals who were out of town and unable to return - there are a string of concerns that arise from the town's isolation, but the biggest problem is the struggle for power. Dave describes it as "Animal Farm" from the mind of Stephen King.
Big Jim Rennie, one of the town's Selectmen, is determined to exploit the dome to promote himself as the "savior" of the town, and in the process create his own system of martial law that allows him to write his own rules, deputize his yes-men to enforce them, and then act as judge, jury and executioner, literally, of those who object.
Dale Barbara, a former soldier recently returned from Iraq and a newcomer to town, reluctantly leads the small band who dares to stand up to this tyranny and fight to save Chester's Mill from the dome and Rennie.
In our opinion, the negatives are few: the large cast of characters seems unwieldy at first, but it's surprising how quickly the reader gets to know the residents of the town - and the playbill at the front of the book provides quick reference if needed; and the gore-meter did rise above my comfort level at times, so the squeemish among you may want to find a reading partner like I have who will edit some of it for you.
The positives, however, are many: the story moves at top speed from page one and, hard as it may be to believe, there were no parts where we felt we were getting off topic or slowing down; there are moments of unexpected, if slightly unorthodox, humor (Dave actually laughed out loud when one man who went flying through the air "trailing intestines like party streamers" - grizzly and warped, I know, but freakishly funny); the action rockets right to the last page and the ending - which you are guaranteed not to predict - simultaneously concludes the story and opens up new questions.
For those who normally avoid horror stories (and I would be one of them), let us reassure you that this is not "occult" horror - no satanic children of the corn, no Carrie-style telekinetic revenge. The horror in this story comes from ordinary people held under a microscope, so to speak, and the things they are willing to do under extraordinary pressure.
Don't be frightened off by the girth of this book. We promise you won't be able to put it down - except when your arms give out.


  1. Great review on this one. I had given up reading King several years ago, but this book called my name. I have downloaded it to the Kindle so my hands would not get numb reading it..LOL (hope to get to it soon).

  2. King does have an amazing ability to make a 1000 page book move along at top speed. I like the idea of the horror coming from ordinary people.