If there’s one thing Stephen King is known for besides the supernaturally horrific overtones to his books, it’s their page lengths. Many readers agree that if you take out the filler in any King book you would end up with a 200-page novel at most. If you remember that most of his books clock in at 1000 pages you can understand the consternation. Rarely do you find any work of fiction that large that actually works as is with no skimming necessary or wanted. Under the Dome is that book.
The town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is just like any other. There are corrupt politicians, people fighting to survive, a small clinic, and a place where everyone goes to hear and to repeat gossip. But on one cloudy day the impossible happens: an invisible dome drops down over the town, entirely cutting it off from the rest of the world. Now, perhaps you’ve seen the television series of the same name. Forget about that here. While the concept remains the same, the story is a different — and more formidable — one in the novel.
One of the first things you’ll notice is the plethora of protagonists in the sealed-off town. I will be the first to admit that initially it can be difficult to keep everyone straight. You’ll more than likely get the “light vs. dark” characters from the start, and you’ll support one side against the other. However, just as in real life, the sides aren’t always clearly delineated, because people aren’t always one way or the other. That’s where King excels, fleshing out his characters so that they appear in 3D instead of as flat people with straight agendas or unwavering stoicism.
Dale Barbara (Barbie) has secrets, and he’s not a native to the town, so the seeds of distrust are sown when he’s trapped in Chester’s Mill on that dark day and somehow gets woven into the fabric of the plan to get rid of the dome. “Big Jim” Rennie is the epitome of the seedy politicians who has hoodwinked many into thinking he has their best interests at heart. Both of them would probably draw attention to themselves anyway, but being trapped under the dome reveals them more clearly than anything ever could, pitting them against each other in a war of wills that could ultimately destroy the town.
Where the book truly excels, however, is in its pacing. Revelations and suspense are interchangeable as the plot moves swiftly in and out of issues, dreams, and the supernatural. Nefarious plans that would have never come to light without the dome’s presence suddenly lead to mortal consequences, and it truly is a race against time and ignorance to try and save the dying town from itself, much less from the overarching invisible dome.
I hadn’t been intrigued by any King book in a long time before I picked up Under the Dome at the library on a whim soon after it was published. Previously I had tried to get into Cell but it wasn’t speaking to me like classic King used to do back in the early ’80s. But the cover and the idea of the novel intrigued me, despite its 897 pages, so I went with it. And I read it in seven days from start to finish.
It’s easy to get into the characters, to choose a side, and to be aghast at the nature of good and evil in the microcosmic environment of Under the Dome. The ending is also ultimately satisfying, showing that King can still craft an intricate work with a purpose and a destination. I would recommend it to anyone who loves suspense and isn’t put off by the graphic nature of many things that go on in the town, like violence at its severest.
I give the novel FIVE stars.