Life Under Stephen King’s ‘Dome’ is Intriguing and Brutal ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ◊

Cover of "Under the Dome: A Novel"

It’s been a while since I read Stephen King’s phonebook-thick Under the Dome, but it made some impressions and stuck with me, and I think there might be some people who’d prefer to know a bit about it before deciding to invest in a 1,000-plus page encyclopedia book.

Some brief background first: I’m originally from Maine, and so is Mr. King, and since Maine, as beautiful as it is, has so few present-day claims to fame, it was sort of natural for me to gravitate toward his work—and on top of that, he’s pretty darn good at what he does, so that worked out well for me.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up this book—if you haven’t figured it out already—is that it’s quite weighty—literally. Weighty and long. But don’t let that discourage you. I realize that long works can be hard to get through, even if they’re entertaining, because you’re bound to have at least a few lulls in the action, but it’s also a neat thing, I think, to be able to say that you conquered a beast like this. That was certainly a big motivating factor for me with this book.

And now for the story itself. As with many King novels, this one takes place in a small town in Maine—a fictitious town, but one that could certainly exist. Being from a small Maine town myself (Windsor—whoop-whoop!), I’m familiar with the rhythms and movements of small-town life, including the bad apple that nearly every small town seems to have: the egotistical, power-hungry, “big fish in a little pond” local politician. That’s true of Chester’s Mill, which is burdened with the presence of Big Jim Rennie, who also doubles (surprise, surprise) as a car salesman (you can’t get a much slimier double-profession than that pair, huh?).

The other driving force in the story is the dome mentioned in the title, a mysterious clear shell that covers the entire town—extending even into the ground—and allows nothing in or out. As you can imagine, this presents all sorts of problems, but also—if you’re Big Jim Rennie—a great possibility: sovereign rule of your own little fiefdom.

It’s not long before all manner of brutality and thuggishness ensue—encouraged almost exclusively by Rennie for his own personal gain—but a small band of folks who are of higher moral quality than Rennie (not that that takes much) begin to work against him while at the same time trying to decipher the enigma that is the dome. A group of town kids is also in on the latter task, giving that aspect of the book a bit of a Stand By Me feel (a movie based on the King short story The Body).

I’ll leave the explosive, intriguing, fairly-satisfying-but-somewhat-saddening ending to your discovery, but I will say this: Under the Dome has some lulls—which, as I said before, is pretty much unavoidable in any long novel—and I wouldn’t call it my favorite Stephen King novel, but it had enough (particularly the “what’s the dome?” part) to keep me engaged til the end and, as always with King, the writing quality is superb, not to mention realistic. I recommend it for King aficionados and anyone looking for a worth literary conquest.

P.S.: There’s a good amount of cussing from his characters, and a sex scene or two—again, that’s customary with him. Also, I didn’t want to give this book 4 diamonds out of 5—more like 3¾—but this system offers no means (that I’m aware of, anyway) of giving partial diamonds.

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