If you’re not careful Stephen King’s latest tome may hurt you. Weighing it at close to 1100 pages and almost four pounds, “Under the Dome” is a return to form for one of the best-selling authors of the past thirty years.
King says he began writing this novel 30 years ago, but wasn’t quite ready to give it the effort it needed. Thankfully, he didn’t abandon the concept of a small group of people cut off from the outside world because “Under the Dome” is one of the better King novels we’ve had in a long time. And given that with his new publishing contract that his books are better edited these days and he’s really delivered some great books, that’s saying a lot.
The small town of Chester’s Mill is having a reasonably ordinary day when a giant dome literally cuts the town off from the outside world. The first hundred or so pages look at the dome’s fall and its immediate impact–from birds crashing into the dome to a plane crash to animals being chopped literally in half by the dome. The story them follows a huge cast of characters in the town as they struggle and devolve into political factions. The town’s leadership is hiding secrets, including the fact that second Selectman “Big Jim” Rennie is the mastermind behind one of the largest crystal meht operations in the state. Rennie has been playing fast with the rules, lining his own pockets and hoarding certain town resources. Finding out who is involved in this elaborate conspiracy is just one of the fascinating journeys that King takes readers on in the just under 1100 pages that the novel unfolds.
Big Jim is a classic King villain–a guy so convinced of his own divine right to rule and that his decisions are what’s best for everyone (because they’re what’s best for him)–that you can’t help but root against him.
Meanwhile, we’ve got Dale Barbara, an Iraqi war vet on his way out of town when the Dome leaves him stranded. Barbara (or as we come to know him by his nickname of Barbie) has crossed paths with Big Jim’s son and several buddies during a bar fight. Barbie won the fight, but lost the war when he realizes that leaving town might be his best move. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it out in time and is trapped as well, leading to some further complications when the President puts him in charge of the situation. To say Big Jim is not happy is an understatement.
The story unfolds over the course of four days under the dome with King examining the conflict between good and evil and looking at how ordinary people react to extraordinary circumstances. In that, “Under the Dome” is vintage King. But King takes the dome concept a bit further, looking at the environmental impact the dome has on the Mill and its surrounding area. In some ways, it’s almost along the lines of apocalyptic thriller along the lines of “The Stand” though there are probably King fans who would argue that “The Stand” is better.
If you’re a Stephen King fan, this is a must read. Carve out some time, settle back, do some hand exercises (holding the book until you read the 200 page and pass the 900 page mark will require some strength and dexterity) and enjoy a superb read by one of the masters of contemporary fiction.