Under the Dome by Stephen King
I probably would have waited to buy this until it was released as a paperback if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was on sale for $9 when I saw it. Despite its size, I read it over a weekend, so it was definitely quickly paced and a bit of a page turner. However, I don’t think it really had to be over 1000 pages, and could easily have been trimmed. And while it was entertaining, it also had its share of weaknesses. First off, as usual, King cannot end a story effectively. His endings have a tendency to come out of nowhere after a few crazy twists that make no sense, or they’re just weak. This one was definitely more on the weak side of things. However, I think that’s a flaw that most people recognize about King so I’m not really going to get into it too much more.
The main thing is that just doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s very much like things King has written before — this is isn’t necessarily a weakness as much of a warning — so don’t expect anything super-original.
Naturally, the story is set in a small town in Maine. One day in October, the town suddenly finds itself surrounded by a dome. No one knows where it came from or what caused it, but it is solid and unbreakable. Nothing can come either in or out (with the exception of a few drops of water and a little bit of air but not enough to really be of any consequence). While there are questions of where the Dome has come from (government conspiracy? terrorist attack?), most of the novel focuses more on what happens within the town after they are cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, they can still watch TV and the internet still works but the outside has no way of enforcing their rules upon the town. The fact that King chooses to just accept the Dome presence, and to explore the effects of this new isolated status on the town is definitely a strength of the novel. A local politician that already had most of the town in his pocket sees this as his chance to gain even more power and control, and convinces most of the population to blindly follow him while only a few are smart enough to see through him and try to set up a type of resistance.
And this is where King starts treading into familiar territory — it just seems like he’s already done that before — the sheep-like populace that follow the wrong person with a few brave men to fight against him. Many of the characters are recognizable from his other novels — Chef, the meth addict, had a rather striking similarity to The Stand’s Trashcan Man, in my opinion. There are of course a few intelligent children and a genius boy who help the adults figure things out. Junior seemed like a rehash of some his other lower-level villains. While King never makes his protagonists into perfect people, in this novel especially, his villains are just plain mean and evil. They have absolutely no redeeming qualities or complications to their character, and I think this weakens the novel. Plus it’s easy to tell who’s bad because they early on make racist and sexist statements. I mean I’m glad the good guys aren’t making those comments, but it just seems like it’s so easy that way — give me something a little more complex. Was the rape scene really necessary other than to establish who the bad guys were? I think it was already clear from other parts of the novel that thugs were taking over without having to add that as well.
There were also a few internal continuity issues that I noticed. At first, Dale Barbara ends up being a former Army captain. Then in the last half of the novel, they keep saying that he’d been a lieutenant. It kind of bugged me that they couldn’t even get his rank straight and also made a comment about him retiring from the Army — if you get out before 20 years, it’s an honorable discharge (hopefully), not retirement.
It’s not to say that this is a bad novel. It’s just it’s basically a lot like reading other Stephen King novels, with a few different elements. And while the ending was weak, I appreciated that he really didn’t start focusing too much on the Dome til much later in the novel and stayed focused on the human side of it.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Jen K’s reviews, check out her blog, Notes from the Officer’s Club.
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