4 Jan 2010

Book Review: Under the Dome, Stephen King

A mysterious dome descends upon the town of Chester's Mill. A woodchuck is split in two and a light airplane explodes, raining debris (and body parts) on Route 119. And so begins Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome...

Forget The Simpsons Movie comparisons. They're unfortunate and distracting. This 1072-page epic deserves to be judged as a new King novel, end of. And he's having a lot of fun here, you can tell, watching his one-hundred-plus cast move around like a kid staring at ants through a magnifying glass. So what if I didn't feel quite the same connection with any of the Chester's Mill inhabitants? I did, however, feel involved enough in their stories to keep turning page after page. Besides, Under the Dome is about people in general more than individuals. It is also about action, pace, tension, and story. In fact, King's prose is leaner here than it has been in years, and if it's not quite ripped, he has certainly worked hard to rid himself of not all but most of the flab that comes with TMI: Too Much Information. Indeed, hand on heart, I can say I wasn't bored for a single moment, quite the opposite, and when you consider the length of the novel, that's a massive achievement.

Anyway, Dome in place, things quickly heat up inside. Divisions form. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara, an Iraq veteran, on one side, 'Big Jim' Rennie, used-car dealer and town second selectman on the other. King tries to blur the lines a little, but what we essentially get is a battle of Good versus Evil. Global Warming, albeit in microcosm, is addressed also, and with admirable restraint. As for the politics in the novel, purported to represent King's own beliefs, they seem to have angered and even turned some readers off. They did not particularly interest me, so I won't go there other than to say I don't believe they encroached upon the story, perhaps because I saw this as something deeper than religion or politics. It's an unflinchingly dark portrayal of human nature and society, but it may also be an honest and true one. Therein lies the horror.

Now for the ending. You will find out what The Dome is and why it is there, but whether you like the explanation or accept the explanation comes down to you, the individual reader. And in traditional Stephen King style, it will disappoint some and satisfy others. Fortunately, after a thousand-page read, I found myself in the latter camp. Again, for me the novel was a study of human behaviour above all else, and for the most part King handles this aspect with great skill and understanding. Okay, one or two characters lost it a little too quickly for me, but what do I know? I've never been under the dome...

Finally, would I recommend picking up a copy? Let me offer some perspective. Here are my top three Stephen King books:

1. The Long Walk (granted, written as Richard Bachman)
2. Hearts in Atlantis
3. Duma Key

Under the Dome supplants Duma Key at No.3 on my list, though it is a close decision. As the smoothest, swiftest, most thrilling read from King so far, I would have to say, yes – get your hands on a copy.


Ian said...

Thanks Steven! I read The Long Walk recently and wondered why I hadn't heard more about it. Reawakened my interest in King - I think my last read was Needful Things quite a while ago. Hopefully I'll get to read this before I shuffle off.

Rich said...

Well bugger me if I don't want to buy that right away! Your review certainly sells it to me.

I've very recently purchased The Stand as I've heard such good things about it. At 1300 pages, it'll probably keep me in 'King' for a while.

Funnily enough, I saw the Simpsons movie just the other day and thought a serious story about a 'dome' would be awesome.

Low and behold, Steven King does it...does that make my ideas as good as his?? Lol :)


Steven J. Dines said...

Ian, ah yes, The Long Walk blew me away when I first read it a few years back. Brilliant.

Rich, Amazon UK are selling the hardback for £7.99 at the moment. Worth considering...