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A review of Under the Dome, with spoilers and some whining about the ending

  • Jan 27, 2010
  • by
Under the Dome, by Stephen King
1088 pages
Hardcover, November 10, 2009; Kindle version, December 24, 2009

First, the confession.  This was the first book I ever read by Stephen King.  I decided to start with it for two reasons, neither profound. First, my company's in-house newsletter is also called Under the Dome. Second, now that I have a Kindle, the sheer size of this thing is less intimidating.

The setting of this Under the Dome is a small town in Maine called Chester's Mill (or sometimes, just "the Mill"). The point-of-view characters are numerous and varied, and range from new-in-town former Army captain now short-order cook Dale Barbara (a.k.a. Barbie) to born-and-raised local Julia Shumway, the owner/editor of the local newspaper.  At one point even Julia's Corgi is the POV character, so it's difficult to call any one person the protagonist, although Barbie probably comes closest.

The antagonist is clearer-- Big Jim Rennie, the local used car dealer who runs a secret but thriving crystal meth factory behind the local fundamentalist church/radio station. Big Jim truly believes God is on his side and so long as he "gets kneebound" now and again, then things will go his way. 

The action starts on a day when Barbie is trying to leave town after a run-in with Big Jim's son and his thuggish friends.  Barbie doesn't quite make it out of the Mill; one second everything is normal and then cars, trucks, planes, birds, and pedestrians suddenly crash into an invisible, impenetrable, indestructible barrier at the city limits-- all of the city limits. In every direction, Chester's Mill is inexplicably cut off from the outside world by the Dome, although really it should be called the Bubble because it also extends miles beneath the surface of the soil as well as in the air. 

People are naturally freaked out. The first news chopper sent to film the Dome crashes into it. People fight panic.  Visitors for the day are trapped, and residents who were out of town can't return.  Meanwhile the Dome admits light and air and some moisture but not enough for it to rain and all particulates from pollution are trapped inside.  The Army tries everything it can think of but can't break the barrier.

Big Jim doesn't want to break it; he's enjoying close to unlimited power by virtue of his unscrupulous nature, a certain amount of charisma, and a financial hold over a lot of citizens. The longer the crisis goes on, the stronger his hold on the Mill, and the more danger Barbie is in.

The best thing about this story is the vivid characterization.  King is a master craftsman when it comes to creating people on the page and breathing life into them. I should mention that sometimes writers get too attached to their characters and can't bring themselves to kill them off. Not a problem here. The setting, too, was very well realized, the small town where everyone knows who everyone else is, even if they don't know them well. After a while, it was a little like reading a Garrison Keillor story, but with a high body count.

The story was compelling; things started out bad and got steadily worse. The POV shifts were in no way a problem because King always knew in exactly whose head we were supposed to be, and he was always comfortable there.  He also used a nice mix of everyday, supernatural, and science fictional elements, that I thought worked well together.  But if asked to recommend this book, I can't really say I do.

Spoilers coming up!

Stop reading if you don't want to know about the ending, and why it made me not like the book.

All in all, in spite of the compelling nature of the story, I was really disappointed by this book. After creating a small town full of very imperfect but for the most part not terrible people, King goes for the big-disaster-movie finish.  I could almost see the special effects credits for the movie version rolling across the page.  A huge explosion starts a fire that kills most of the town outright, and leaves only a handful of survivors.

A lot of stories are a variation on "protagonist is in a box and has to get out." King made it impossible for humans to get out of the box by their own efforts, and then he kept making it worse and worse for them, until finally most of them die.  When the few survivors do get out, it's really not a victory in any sense of the word.  

Plus, it did seem to me the explanation for the Dome did not entirely fit what it was; my impression from the beginning was the Dome was shaped by the town's city limits (constantly called boot or sock shaped), and I don't see how its creators could have known or would have cared what the city limits were.  The Dome should have been shaped like a sphere or a fish tank, without regard for legal boundaries.

Finally, UTD suffers, I thought, from a surfeit of message: humans are cruel to each other, and we are destroying our closed ecosystem. I could not tell which was the primary message; the plot jumps the shark, but I'm not sure if the shark is pollution/global warming or the need to rein in bullying before it grows into torture.</lj-cut>

The first two-thirds of the book was so good, it just made the last third look so really bad. That explains the rating; it's an average.

(Also note, the Kindle version had at least eight instances of words hyphenated when they should not be and one place where there had to be a word missing for the sentence to make sense.)

FTC Disclosure:  I paid for this book.

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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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Karen Wester Newton ()
Ranked #330
Member Since: Nov 11, 2009
Last Login: Mar 12, 2011 04:27 PM UTC
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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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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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