Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Science fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: From two thousand feet, where Claudette Sanders was taking a flying lesson, the town of Chester’s Mill gleamed in the morning light like something freshly made and just set down.
Goodreads blurb: On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
This was a monster of a book! It is a testimony to how good it is that I was willing to keep reading for all 1,071 pages. In fact, the last three hundred or so simply sped by, as I turned the pages as fast as I could to find out how things would end.
This isn’t horror fiction, but it is still Stephen King, so the body count is high. There are lots of creepy, skin-crawly moments and plenty of what King seems to do very well – demonstrate the depravity of humankind. Like any dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel, Under the Dome places the people of this small town in a situation that either allows them to shine or to show their worst character traits.
The small town politics in Chester’s Mill are already pretty screwed up, even before the Dome goes up and cuts them off from the rest of the world. When Jim Rennie, Second Selectman, realizes that there is no way the outside system can have any say in how he runs things, he thrives. He is a power-hungry racist with sociopathic tendencies. His motto is, “The end justifies the means, and if the means is cruel, then that’s just a bonus.” He and his even sicker son Junior were some of the creepiest, most evil villains I’ve read in a long time.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Dale Barbara. He is no longer military, but the US government has no problem pulling him into service as their “inside man” in the Dome. The only drawback is that he has already managed to get on Rennie’s bad side – and Rennie isn’t going to simply step aside and let Barbara take over. Barbara is helped in his resistance of Rennie by Julia Shumway, the owner of the local paper, a woman who sees Rennie for exactly what he is.
I loved the way that King explored the darker side of human instinct, as well as how he showed that some people rise to their true calling when in the worst of circumstances. I also found the ultimate explanation for the Dome to be fascinating and original. After reading this and 11/22/63, I am left wondering why I waited so long to try King’s fiction.