Under the Dome

One bright, beautiful, end-of-summer day, Chuck Thompson is giving Claudette Sanders a flying lesson. They are far above the town of Chester’s Mill, enjoying the freedom of flight. Though they don’t know it, they are in the last few moments of their lives: with brutal suddenness, their plane crashes into an invisible surface that wasn’t there seconds ago and shouldn’t be there now. That fiery plane crash is the first indication for the people of Chester’s Mill that something has gone horribly wrong with their world, and that something is the Dome.

At first, no one understands what’s happened. In the first 24 hours, there is chaos as birds, cars, deer, humans, and speeding pulp trucks run into the immovable surface of the dome that exactly surrounds the town. No one can get out, and no one — and nothing, including air and water — can get in. Land line phones have been cut, but cell phones and wireless Internet are still working, and many people in this small New England town have generators… for a while, until they run out of propane.

Of course, most people are panicked, bewildered, heartsore at the loss of loved ones on the other side of the barrier. There are a few exceptions: Jim Rennie, the town’s oily Second Selectman, who feels he is made to take charge in a crisis like this; Junior Rennie, who is too absorbed in the murders he’s just committed to be frightened of the Dome; and Dale Barbara (“Barbie”), an Iraq veteran and fry-cook who knows that worse is coming and that he must stay calm if anyone is to survive.

I admit to being a big fan of Stephen King’s writing. There was a time when I’d read everything he’d written; now he’s put out some things in ebook and audio format that I haven’t kept up with, but I’ve still read all his novels. Many of them are absolutely wonderful; others are trash that’s not worth reading, but there is no one — and I mean no one — writing today with an ear for dialogue like King. He just simply writes the way people talk. He’s fearless about using pop culture references. He’s funny and dark and grim and he never fails to slam the accelerator all the way to the floor.

Once, King said about his own writing, “I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but you can’t sell it as caviar.” That may be so, but oh my: this is a hell of a salami sandwich, with fresh bread and ripe tomato and just a little vinaigrette. As the tension builds — as the thugs in town take over, as the strong take from the weak, as the atmosphere under the Dome becomes fouler, as we discover secrets about the townspeople like evil birthday surprises — I squirmed. I just couldn’t bear it. I so wanted it to be different, but I could see that it was developing exactly as it must. I even liked the reason, eventually revealed, for the Dome’s presence — despite the fact that it’s fantastic, it didn’t feel like a deus ex machina to me. King is trying to say something about the way we treat each other — he creates a hothouse (literally) where the knots of human frailty tangle faster, but he knows that in human life, the blood is always going to hit the wall at one point or another. The question is whether or not we can grow up and find pity, if not love. I think he leaves it an open question.

I haven’t thought that some of King’s recent novels (Duma Key, Cell) were his best work, and I wondered if he’d gone off his stride a bit. But I loved Under the Dome. It’s a big investment of time — almost 1100 pages — but it was worth it: King is at his best when he’s allowed a large canvas and many characters, in my opinion (The Stand, The Talisman, the epic gunslinger series.) He also does wonderful things with a locked-room situation — just look at The Shining. This novel is horror, but human horror; fantasy, but realistic fantasy. It gripped me completely, and engaged me, and touched me, and made me angry and sad and happy. It did everything I want my salami to do.

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23 Responses to Under the Dome

  1. Lenore says:

    I’ve been thinking about reading this, but it is such a big investment of time. Still, thanks to your review, I might just dig in when I get the chance.

    • Jenny says:

      Lenore, it really was quite an investment and took me several days, despite being a fairly fast read each time I sat down to it. But this one was worth it!

  2. Michelle says:

    I’ve been eyeballing this one for a while now. Thank you for giving me the push to go ahead and pick it up!

    • Jenny says:

      I really liked The Stand, and this one had some of that apocalyptic feel, but was definitely its own book. Give it a try!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this too. I’m not really put off by the size but it does make me defer reading until I think I’m going to have a chunk of uninterrupted opportunity!

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t blame you. It’s huge — even physically uncomfortable (I read the hardcover, from the library.) But it was very enjoyable, all the same.

  4. I’ve just started reading King, but this is certainly intimidating, although the cover is gorgeous. I’m really glad you enjoyed this.

    • Jenny says:

      Not all of King is created equal! (Don’t bother with Cujo, for instance, or Christine.) But when he’s good, he’s very very good, and when he’s horrid he’s sometimes even better. :)

  5. Steph says:

    I’ve actually never read a Stephen King novel! I remember growing up that my mom always used to give my dad his new novels whenever they were out for his birthday or Christmas, but it was always verboten for me to read them… You’d think that would have piqued my interest and made me feel I had to read them, but instead I was an obedient child and simply got to thinking they weren’t for me.

    So interesting to hear you say that you think King is the, well, kind of dialogue. I generally think that crown goes to Jonathan Franzen, which is why I liked The Corrections so much. Some of those conversations made me wince because they could have been my very family gatherings!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh Steph, how funny. I was also forbidden to read King or anything “occult” as a child. My first King novel was Misery, read the summer before college! And yes, I’ve read many people who do masterful dialogue, but I still think almost all of them could take lessons from King in one area or another (usually working-class people.)

  6. Like Steph I haven’t read any Stephen King either. This book has tempted me and everyone keeps talking about The Stand – I’ll have to read one soon :-)

    • Jenny says:

      I love The Stand, but know other people who hate it (usually if they hate it they think it’s bloated.) Let me know what you think if you pick one up. I tend to think there’s a King for everyone. :)

  7. Kathleen says:

    I do love Stephen King and must read this one!

  8. Jane says:

    Great review-Stephens books are on my shelf I guess I have to auction them first before I get another copy

  9. softdrink says:

    And this is where I confess to never having read a King book. Although I do enjoy movies based on his stories (Shawshank Redemption and The Secret Window being two of my favs).

    • Jenny says:

      Funny, in my circles, you kind of have to “confess” to reading as much King as I do! But I confess, I confess. :) I LOVE The Shawshank Redemption. One case where the movie is as good as the story.

  10. Lightheaded says:

    I haven’t picked up a King story since uh, Lisey’s Story (which I totally adored). But when this book came out, all I could think about (after reading the synopsis) then was “Gee, like The Simpson’s Movie?” or something to that effect :) And goodness, Dark Tower VII is just sitting there on my shelf, waiting. Maybe I just don’t want Roland’s saga to end. Oh well.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I loved Lisey’s Story, too. That was his best one for a while, in my opinion. I haven’t seen The Simpsons Movie! How funny that it has a dome! But King began this story back in 1974, so I don’t think he got his idea there. :)

  11. Jeanne says:

    I used to like some of King’s salami, and what you say agrees so well with what I thought back then (my favorite was The Stand) that I might have to try this one. Maybe on audiobook so I won’t have to hold it up above a cat!

  12. Mystica says:

    I too have never read King but this review makes me definitely want to grab this one! Thanks.

  13. Jenny says:

    I have only read two King books ever and that was years ago! This one has really been calling out my name though. Thanks for the great review… I may definitely have to check this one out. I love the last paragraph of your review!

  14. cbjames says:

    I love this notion of salami writing. He certainly does make a darn good salami. This one was lots of fun. Not his best by a long shot, but he delivers the goods that’s for sure.

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