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Sprawling and ambitious...yet King handles it with ease. Don't let the length scare you!

  • Jan 30, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+4
Chester's Mill is a small town in Maine, population just a few thousand. One day, a huge, invisible dome drops down over the town, trapping its residents inside. The dome cannot be penetrated by the military's best technology, nor can it be tunneled under. The residents are forced to live on generator power and to breathe ever worsening air.

This very simple, direct premise is the core of UNDER THE DOME, Stephen King's return to his old stomping grounds (Chester's Mill is just up the road from Castle Rock...and if you're a King fan, you certainly know Castle Rock). Essentially, we are invited to witness the behavior, sometimes brave, more often craven, of the residents of this little town as they attempt to come to grips with their new reality. In typical King form, the exploration of small-town life is sprawling and packed full of characters. The book runs an astonishing 1072 pages. We get to know literally scores of characters and much of the book is spent on seemingly mundane details.

But King is a master of juggling huge casts, and he has a fondness for showing the dark underbelly of small town life. In this case, we get one of his most disagreeable villains ever (at least, of his villains who aren't supernatural)...Jim Rennie. Rennie is a town selectman, used car dealer, major crystal meth manufacturer & a homicidal megalomaniac who sees the arrival of the dome as a chance to tighten his political grip on the town. He beefs up the local police force with all the worthless youth in the town, because he knows these losers will enjoy pushing others around and wielding "authority" (and guns). In essence he establishes martial law, in part by staging a food riot and thus proving to the populace his great worth to the community.

Natural, there are a handful of more noble folks who see right through the schemes...but they will have a seriously difficult time trying to thwart ole Jim.

I hesitate to share more specifics...this is a book of many discoveries about people and their behavior. While King juggles the specifics of what the dome does to life in Chester's Mill, including the media attention and military attention...he's really more interested in exploring the core of the many characters he introduces. There is lots of plot and there are MANY gruesome deaths...these are all devices to move along his ruminations on the inner lives and character of these people. I suspect King could have told this STORY in about 400 pages, and it might have been pretty good. But he needs the extra 600 pages to tell the "real" story...who these people are, how they think, and why they act like they do. He could have told the story and explored some of the characters in about 5-600 pages if he wanted...but he delves into one person after another after another...leading to 1072 pages. As you read it, you can almost sense his glee in the balancing act he's pulling off...keeping us interested and engaged in a huge cast. The arrival of the dome has exposed the dark side of many and the noble side of others...and King wants us to see all the permutations. When King is fully engaged in a story he's telling, there really are few better writers of "Popular" fiction. The story always moves at a blistering pace, and he generates many scenes of real dread. While the plot is quite outrageous, his tone always makes it seem quite plausible. The rough outline of the story is pure science-fiction, yet it always feels more like a modern-day OUR TOWN than a work of genre fiction. King has a deceptively easy-going style that usually only FEELS meandering...and is really an exploration of power, courage, insanity, self-awareness, guilt, strength and in general, the many ways humans react in the most extreme situations. It is his best example of "let's get a group of unrelated people and throw them into a horrible situation and see what they do" since DESPARATION.

I do have some problems with the book. First of all, it would appear that all the bad guys are Republicans and most of the good guys are Democrats. In fact, when a Republican character acts selflessly, others take the time to compliment her..."wow, I didn't know a Republican could do something so brave." There are many clumsy digs at George Bush. For an author who can be so subtle in his characterizations...he uses party affiliation to paint in some very broad strokes that make you painfully aware of King's views rather than the characters. This is particularly prominent early on in the book, and I was glad when he finally moved away from that.

It's also often a not too subtle commentary on global warming. The residents are trapped in this dome where the air no longer moves, so their own pollution quickly makes breathing more difficult. While this is certainly credible given what has happened to everyone...on occasion I again felt the clumsy hand of social commentary from King. I believe he could easily have gotten his "message" across more subtly. I don't argue that an author might want to express political views through his writing...but when it is so clumsy, it is jarring.

However, there is too much right about this book to deny it anything but a 5-star rating. It is ambitious and bold...and for the most part, disturbingly credible. If you can accept the existence of the dome, most of what happens thereafter is sadly believable as we see mob mentality at its worst. How fear and isolation cause people to make some bad choices, and how some people will exploit that fear. It's a long read, but when it was over, I still wished for more.

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More Under the Dome reviews
review by . March 29, 2011
Under The Dome. Well, you read the synopsis.  The story takes us into a small town in (where else) Maine, where an invisible dome has appeared (pretty clever the way that ties in with the title, eh?). Anyway, in typical King fashion there are horrific accidents as people/animals/machinery run into the dome. And what Stephen King tale would be complete without a well placed and homicidal nutjob? Fear not, it's got one of those too.    The book was well written and you …
review by . June 09, 2010
I had never read a Stephen King book before I received Under the Dome as a gift last year - I just didn't really think they would interest me. But this hefty piece of writing actually changed that opinion for me quite a bit. The book defied most of my stereotypes, lived up to a few others, yet still managed to be highly entertaining throughout.      From the very beginning, the book reads like the literary offspring of a Michael Bay movie and an episode of South Park. Surprisingly, …
review by . May 16, 2010
One of Stephen King's Best Novels
Under the Dome may be one of the most entertaining novels Stephen King as written in years, and maybe one of the longest, weighing in at a hefty 1,072 pages.  But don’t let that deter you, this novel keeps rolling from start to finish and keeps the reader deeply engaged in the story.  A small New England town, Chester’s Mill, is a rather normal little burg.  It has a small town police force, punky teens on skateboards, trailer trash, a megalomaniac politician on a small …
review by . August 01, 2010
Iraq veteran Dale (Barbie) Barbara is on his way out of Chester's Mill when an invisible shield drops down, running along the small town's boundaries. Planes, cars and birds crash into it, people run into it, and no one can figure out what it is. The US military's calculations are that a large force field in the shape of a dome has settled over Chester's Mill, cutting the town off from the rest of the country. Their efforts to destroy the dome are fruitless, as are their attempts to figure out who …
review by . June 25, 2010
Under the Dome is a TERRIBLE book.  Actually, it’s a fantastic book that just contains terrible things.         Stephen King continues to thrill with his latest post-retirement book which, in my opinion, is his greatest non-Dark Tower novel in the last 10 years.  Under the Dome is a frightening look at what might happen in small town America when the town finds itself cut off from the rest of the world.  This is King’s longest book since It …
review by . June 17, 2010
   Stephen Kings novel "Under the Dome" is an in-depth look at the inhabitants of a small Maine town by the name of Chester's Mill, barely a blip on the map, that find themselves cut off from the rest of the world due to an invisible barrier - the sudden appearance of which causes numerous injuries and fatalities to both humans and animals. Follow the inhabitants of Chester's Mill as they learn about and attempt to deal with the confusing and at times tragic series of …
review by . March 21, 2010
Stephen King is an author that goes above American Literature.  He is a global phenomenon.  He has gone from being influenced by pop culture... to actually influencing Pop Culture.  At least at one point in time he did.  There's a lot King has done to influence Pop Culture and he is still a capable writer, even while he's going onto his sixth decade and pushing his career onto forty years.  Under the Dome is an ambitious novel; one he's had rolling around up in his head …
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Long read, but good. Not as good as some of his others, but good...really kind of makes you wonder, what if? Along the same lines as "Cell".
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
really disappointing. I used to love Stephen King but maybe I'm too old for him now. The writing seems really simplistic.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Under the Dome was the first book I read on my Amazon Kindle last Christmas. Definitely a page turner with some likeable characters and other you love to hate. I found it enjoyable and interesting but didn't like a couple of ways the story turned. I still recommend it though!
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Ranked #146
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Wiki

Under the Dome is a novel by Stephen King that was released on November 10, 2009. It is a rewrite of a novel King attempted writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, under the titles The Cannibals and Under the Dome. As King stated on his official site, these two unfinished works "were two very different attempts to utilize the same idea, which concerns itself with how people behave when they are cut off from the society they've always belonged to. Also, my memory of The Cannibals is that it, like Needful Things, was a kind of social comedy. The new Under the Dome is played dead straight." From the material originally written in the 1980s, only the first chapter is included in the new novel.
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Details

ISBN-10: 1439148503
ISBN-13: 978-1439148501
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror, Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Scribner, Pocket
Date Published: November 10, 2009
ISBN: 978-1439148501
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