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Horror and action combine in King's latest

  • Nov 12, 2009
What happens when you take an ordinary small town in rural Maine and put a lid on it? An invisible, tougher than Superman, nearly impermeable dome of a lid that extends into the sky nearly 50,000 feet?

At more than 1,000 pages, quite a lot. King's latest is not so much a horror tale as a horrifying thriller - the dome is a mystifying fact; it's the people under it that get really scary. In King's vision, cutting a town off from the world - from accountability - leaves the bullies in charge. Perhaps a different town would have had a different result, but I suspect (on no evidence) that King thinks bullies are attracted to small-town authority.

There are good people in Chester's Mills, plenty of them, but after a mishap with the Dome gets rid of the sheriff, the good people are no longer in charge. To Big Jim Rennie, selectman, self-appointed town bigwig, and businessman (used car salesman of course), the Dome is a godsend. Literally. Big Jim is a serious Christian. That is, he prays and he doesn't swear or drink. And he makes sure that other peoples' sacrifices are "for the good of the town." The Dome is his chance to be a really big fish.

Then there's Rennie's son, Junior, whose nasty streak has been exacerbated by a brain tumor. There is temporary pain relief for his debilitating migraines though. Violence. Beating young women to death, specifically. Sitting with their decaying bodies afterwards is especially soothing.

Junior is the first person Big Jim deputizes, quickly followed by a squad of Junior's closest friends, boys for whom power means the freedom to throw their weight around.

Opposing Big Jim are a handful of stalwart citizens and a drifter. The drifter - Dale Barbara, or Barbie, as he prefers to be known - is hitchhiking out of town on that fine October day when the Dome invisibly materializes just a few tantalizing steps ahead of him (doing in a small plane overhead and a woodchuck whose last thoughts are remarkably like those of a raccoon). Barbie's stint as a short order cook at the town café had come to an abrupt end when Junior and his friends jumped him in the parking lot (for, at first, unknown reasons) and he was run out of town by Big Jim.

But Barbie isn't going anywhere now, much to Big Jim's chagrin. And it gets worse, as far as Big Jim is concerned. Barbie, it turns out, is not just any drifter. He's ex-military, with a lot of smarts, training and special skills. He's a lot like Lee Child's Jack Reacher in fact (Reacher gets a mention or two in the course of things). And the powers-that-be in the outside world - the military and the President - want to promote Barbie to colonel and put him in charge of "the situation."

Barbie is the voice of reason and dissent, accompanied by the town's gutsy hardworking newspaper owner, Julia Shumway, an old-style Republican. They soon begin to attract a few more folks resistant to the Big Jim version of order. Rusty Everett, the nurse practitioner who soon becomes the closest thing the town has to a doctor - or a coroner. His wife, Linda, a cop, and the sheriff's widow, Brenda Perkins, as well as a trio of adolescent geeks as smart as they are brave, and a couple of lefty Massachusetts profs who rise to the occasion.

Big Jim gets apoplectic just thinking about any of these people, though Barbie brings out his real evil genius. Meanwhile children are having seizures and peculiar visions having to do with Halloween, which is just a week away. And life under the Dome gets a bit more uneasy every day in ways both predictable and strange.

King explores the effects of isolation from civilization in both physical and psychological ways, using these elements to flesh out the action. Lights and freezers wink out as generators run out of fuel. The air grows gradually hotter, more fetid. Pollutants begin to accumulate on the outside of the Dome, making the sky smeary and strange. Health care is minimal.

And everyone needs to choose a side.

King's latest is longer than it needs to be, but compulsively readable, like all his books. The development of the Dome environment - the physical and mental mechanics of isolation from the world - is more compelling than the thuggish mind of Big Jim, but Big Jim provides the action, from arming the town's delinquents to orchestrating a riot to, well, murder, and he's just getting started.

Over a week of worsening air, frayed nerves, terror and tyranny, the building tension and accelerating action arise not only from the megalomania of Big Jim Rennie but also from the choices of ordinary people, elements of fate and whimsy, and irony. The long, breath-snatching conclusion is pure King.

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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!
About the reviewer
Lynn Harnett ()
Ranked #182
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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About this book


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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