Under The Dome – Book Review

Let me just start by saying that I am, and have been, a huge Stephen King fan for many, many years. However, I am not above pointing out when he has written a stinker, Maximum Overdrive, Cell, etc. I am glad to announce to you that Under The Dome is definitely and undeniably not a stinker.

As Mr. King has gotten older he has shown a tendency toward global human traits and subjects, such as love, compassion, and the human condition in general. Books that come to mind are some of his latest, Duma Key – a turn inward in the human mind and soul, Lisey’s Story – the story of the woman behind the man, and perhaps one of the most compelling love stories I’ve read in years. Of course, I haven’t even mentioned yet some of the stories he is best known for, such as Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption, The Body (Stand By Me), and The Green Mile. All of these are hugely famous because of their ability to plug into the human condition in one way or another.

In previous books we have seen Mr. King take us into a macrocosm in such stories as The Stand, however Under The Dome takes a microcosm approach by sealing off a small town in (of course) Maine and letting the events run their course within that small and increasingly suffocating environment.

The dynamics of the characters are beautifully reminiscent of the Bush administration: the Second Selectman of the town of Chesters Mill, Big Jim Rennie is described like this, – “Rennie was a great believer in what he called the Protectability Quotient…you got all the power (at least when the First was a nit…) but rarely had to take the blame when things went wrong.” If you can’t see the Bush – Cheney dynamic in that analogy, then perhaps you also thought that 2000 – 2008 was among the best years of American diplomacy and foreign policy. It’s clear what Mr. King feels, in any case.

The premise of the story is quite clear just from the title and the image on the front cover. A mysterious dome suddenly appears around the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill. While it is invisible, it is still impenetrable and even fatal if electronics are brought near it. It becomes apparent very quickly that there is no way out, at least for the time being. So the residents begin to try and survive in their town until the government or anyone else for that matter can get them out, or remove the dome.

This is where the coaster of the story begins and the ride supplied by Mr. King  never fails to please, all the way through the 1000+ pages that the novel comes in at. Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an ex-soldier and army vet, who is now a wanderer and calls no place home, is just thinking of leaving Chester’s Mill. He was given encouragement from Jr. and his buddies in a nightclub parking lot brawl. Jr. being the son of the God fearing Republican, Jim Rennie Sr. Second Selectman of the town. On the morning of October 21st, Barbie decides to hit the road and leave for good. As he is walking along Route 119, he witnesses a plane crash in mid-air. The plane crashes into nothing…literally. It seemed to explode in the sky, but it looked as if the plane had hit a wall. From there, Mr. King provides several other graphic examples of what happened in the first hours of the dome’s existence.

With the landing of the dome we commence on a modern day Lord Of The Flies, except this time with adults instead childish minds, or are they? In classic King style, the story unfolds as easily as any he has written during his prolific career. I was somewhere in the 800’s when I realized that I hadn’t once looked to see where I was in the book. This is a real testament to Mr. King, the fact that he is able to hold the reader for such a long period of time.

As expected, the citizens of the doomed Chester’s Mill divide into two separate camps, very clearly representing the two major political parties in the U.S., with Big Jim Rennie taking the reins and controlling events to his favor in a much more apparent role than he has taken in the past. Meanwhile, from the outside, Barbie is contacted by his old boss, a Colonel in the Army. He and the President no less, appoint Barbie a Colonel and direct him to take control and keep the residents calm and ready to deal with the plans to get them out of the dome situation.

However, Big Jim has taken control of the police force and started deputizing Junior’s friends, the town’s young ruffians, as members of the new police force. While he is busy creating a police state, Barbie and the few people he can trust in the town start to find out who is able to see what is really going on in the isolated town.

This turns into a grim cautionary tale of who we are as a society, and what really matters to us when the proverbial crap hits the fan. Just like Lord Of The Flies, when we are put under the microscope, it is apparent that we need to take a look at where we are headed. Under The Dome is scary, horrible, and dead on target. The citizens of Chester’s Mill watch in helpless horror as the particulates gather on the invisible surface of the dome, bringing into focus the real barrier they are facing, the quickly deteriorating quality of the air inside the dome. Does any of this sound familiar?

If asked, I would definitely recommend this to a friend, regardless if they were a Stephen King fan or not. It is a great read and extremely thought provoking. After all, we all live on a dome rather than under a dome, and really, that’s just the same thing, isn’t it?

Todd Hurley – The Hurley Edition