UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King [Review]

I’ve always enjoyed reading Stephen King, starting with Pet Cemetery back in high school and his short stories and novellas (The Langoliers, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body), through college, though, my favorite book was The Stand. Last year, I reconnected with King’s works by starting the Dark Tower novels (thanks to Amie’s recommendation), and became interested in reading Under the Dome.

The story focuses on the town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, where one fall day the inhabitants find themselves trapped by a giant, clear dome. The world is soon split into those inside the dome and the rest of the world outside trying to free them. Many of the Mill’s residents try to understand what caused the dome to appear and the reality of their new situation. Some see this as an opportunity to fill in the power void caused by isolation from the outside world, others as a chance to get revenge on those they dislike. As supplies and hopes begin to dwindle, factions form and neighbors turn on each other. Part Lord of the Flies, part Jericho, the question in Under the Dome is not who, but if anyone can survive the dome?

Clocking in at over 1000 pages (for the hardcover version), Under the Dome a big book (and a 34 hour audiobook!) which could intimidate readers from starting to read it, but there is no filler in King’s plotline, it’s all integral to the story and characters. As always, King captures the essence of his New England/Mainer characters, a good balance of common sense with a mixture of independence. Even an outsider like the main character, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a former Army lieutenant who was leaving town after a run-in with some of the locals at the time the dome appears, is excellently developed and has the reader cheering for him from almost the beginning. You truly get a sense of what these people’s daily lives are like (and how they change under extraordinary circumstances) and how did they become the people they are at the time the story is told.

Ironically, it is some of the character development and writing that led me to give the book four instead of five stars. King uses the crisis of the dome as a metaphor to the days after 9/11, and the Chester’s Mill first and second selectmen playing the roles similar to George Bush and Dick Cheney.

While an interesting way to provide political commentary and show the flaws of the real life people through the actions of the book’s characters, King goes over the top and seems to constantly want to remind the readers that these evil folks are the same as their real life counterparts.

This is especially true with the second selectman and the story’s “bad guy” Jim Rennie, Sr., who at times will leave you asking King to stop beating the dead horse, that we get that he’s Dick Cheney and he is an douchebag with a bad ticker (though no one argues that Rennie is a douche).

Then there’s the editor of the town’s paper, Julia Shumway, who has great dialogues and scenes with Barbara, but is treated at times by the author as if it’s a miracle she can write more than two cohesive sentences or drive a car while being a Republican. Again, this doesn’t take away from how well the character is written and how King nails Shumway’s essence as the small town newspaper editor standing up to the old school local political machine, but by continually revisiting her political beliefs it cheapens Shumway’s achievements and makes her motivation seem to be political (when it’s completely the opposite sentiment).

Outside of the character development issues, the writing is top notch, with an opening and closing to the story that may be the best of King’s books so far. Even after the strong feelings I had about some of the character development, this is one of the best books I have ever read and think you enjoy it as well (regardless of political affiliation).

Under the Dome is a must have for any Stephen King fan, and will be enjoyed by most anyone who enjoys a good fiction book. There are some horror and science fiction elements, though I would not classify the book as being solely in one of these genres. The book does contain some graphic descriptions of violence and death, and, along with the length of the book and the complex storyline, would make the book more age appropriate for readers age 17 and up.

If you are concerned about the length of the book, I would recommend getting the audiobook version like I did, Raul Esparza’s narration is excellent. The audiobook also has an afterword by Stephen King, which was interesting to listen to.

If you’ve read Under the Dome, what do you think? Did you like the big twist at the end? What did you think about the political overtones of the book?

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars | Narrated by: Raul Esparza | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio | Length: 34 hours, 29 minutes | Source: Purchased

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