Under the Dome by Stephen King
Under the Dome is a monstrous 1,000 page novel from Stephen King about a small American town which suddenly finds itself trapped under a giant invisible force field. King absolutely runs with this idea and has written an entertaining tale where the action comes in thick and fast, right from the opening pages. Despite the books length, it doesn’t take long for events in Under the Dome for things to turn all Lord of the Flies. About twelve pages, if memory serves.
Easily the highlight of this book is the character Big Jim Rennie, a used car salesman and the town’s second selectman. He is enourmous in both size and stature. It is Rennie who seizes upon the town’s predicament and rules over its people using fear-mongering and bible-thumping. With his bad ticker, religious indoctrination and ailing body, King writes Rennie like a caricature of Dick Cheney and clearly he has the time of his life doing so. One of my favourite chapters in the book titled Feeling It in which describes Rennie’s appreciation for the local girls basketball team which was both an unexpected and a clever way to describe what makes him tick. It doesn’t take long for Rennie to seize control of the town and this sets up the backbone for the story as some of the town’s residents attempt a resistance, often with incredibly disappointing and heartbreaking results.
Not being a regular reader of King’s novels, I was a little put off by the sheer amount of sexualized violence in the books opening chapters, however I felt that the book ultimately didn’t include these passages needlessly.
On a different note, I also came to enjoy King’s playful narration of the story. At times he takes care to include references to obscure real world musicians and bands, then in the same breath he mentions a television series spin-off to Lost or alludes to an Obama 2012 election campaign. Despite the incredible concept, at times King appears to be taking great pains to present the story as scientifically accurate as possible. Then he introduces a dog that can talk to the dead.
Not unlike Lost, one of the most enjoyable things about Under the Dome, once it gets going, is the sheer number of characters there are and how you become attached to them. King does a great job populating the town of Chester’s Mill with a cast of brave heroes, corrupt politicians, humble doctors, intrepid reporters, dogs who talk to dead people, clever kids, aging hippies and rabble-rousing drunkards. There are so many terrific pairings in this book. The power-monger Rennie with the brow beaten Chief of Police Randolph. The crusty old hippie Thurston and his young lover Caroline. And perhaps best of all, the unexpected bond between the wimpy first selectman Andy Sanders and the drug-addled psychopath Chef Bushey.
Having such a vast mix of characters allows for King to shift the tone of the book from thriller to comedy and back again. He also gives you just enough time to get to know the charactersso that genuine concern sets in when they starting dropping one by one. I became quite attached to certain characters and was mentally shouting at King not to kill them by the end of the book, just as much as I was eagerly and patiently waiting for that bastard Rennie to get his come uppance.
Under the Dome makes for great holiday reading material. As a slow reader, thats where I found the time to get through it. Once it gets its hooks into you, it becomes a compulsive read to find out what happens next. The pacing and pleasure to be had in going through this book is not unlike spending a rainy weekend indoors with a season of a good tv show on DVD. In fact, someone should probably make this book into a show. It’s probably already happening.