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Under the Dome, Stephen King

2010/04/24

This is one book that will certainly scare many people: a 1072-page hardback will do that to you. Stephen King, one of the most popular horror/thriller writers today, has certainly thrown down the gauntlet on fat books.

The narrative covers a period of one week in the little town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, which is home to about two thousand people, many of whom are named in the lengthy character list which precedes the first chapter. The date is October 21st, a beautiful autumn day, when it happens. An invisible barrier snaps down around the limits of Chester’s Mill, sealing in the residents and sealing out all others. Immediately, this begins to have disastrous consequences, for nothing can pass through — not animals, people, cars, or planes, though oddly enough, sound is unimpaired. Within seconds of this lock-down, the body count begins.

The sudden influx of names and places, as well as the mortality rate, makes it difficult at first to know which are significant. But soon enough, certain people begin to come to the forefront, leaders are chosen or made, and events begin to snowball. Outside the Dome, the government and military leaders are attempting to guide the happenings inside, but without any way to enforce their declarations, things begin to get ugly quickly. Big Jim Rennie, a car salesman and Second Selectman, quickly rises to prominence, rounding up the town officials and ordering reinforcements to the police force as the violence begins to escalate. Meanwhile, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a veteran of Iraq and now full-time cook, has been called up by an old friend from the US Army who has a direct line to the President, and Julia Shumway, the editor of the local paper, is out amongst the community, uncovering secrets and things that some folks would rather have kept quiet. Soon, stores, hospitals, and the general populace is thrown into turmoil.

I found it interesting that while for the majority of the novel, the perspective is third person subjective, King occasionally pulls the readers out of the picture and writes in first person omniscient, which though disconcerting, also serves as an important plot device. This is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in its entirety — I’m not a big fan of horror/thrillers — since I am rather squeamish about that, even if it’s “just” a novel. And this book certainly has its fair share of violence. There is gore and gruesomeness aplenty, but there are also stark pictures of corruption and its effect on those who stand passively by. From one perspective, this is a horror / science fiction novel, from another, it is a political commentary, and from still another, it is a snapshot of the ugliness of unchecked humanity. It’s definitely not a light or quick read, and though I cannot say that this was a particularly enjoyable read, it left me unsettled and contemplative of what my action or inaction might contribute to, and for that, I do recommend “Under the Dome.”

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