Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Now that I’ve finally read through Under the Dome, I feel I can say with all honesty that I’m in the best shape of my life. Why? Because reading the hardcover edition of this book was a workout. Nearly 1,100 pages added up to be not only an epic read, but a hefty dumbbell by which to exercise.
And that sums up my primary complaint about this novel: it’s too long.
I understand how crafting a story with dozens of characters requires a fair amount of space in order to establish them in such a way that they feel reasonably genuine and sympathetic. But, let’s be honest, the events of the novel do not carry over a great passage of time–and the events depicted in the novel are at times drawn out to an interminable level. I’m not likely to be accused anytime soon of being an editor, but despite the purported cutting down of this book from an even greater length to its existing size, I think there is plenty of fluff left in the novel to whittle it down to a healthy–and relatively trim–eight hundred pages. I can think of a couple of superfluous scenes involving the points of view of animals which would not be missed.
As for the story, it’s an interesting one that’s for sure. On an uneventful October morning, the bucolic little Maine town of Chester Mills is unceremoniously trapped within an invisible forcefield. Not even the water from the brooks can penetrate the barrier beyond a miniscule trickle. The town essentially becomes the world’s largest snowglobe.
Trapped inside is Dale Barbara, a retired soldier and vagabond hash slinger, looking to vacate the town after a violent altercation with Junior Rennie and a few others. Barbie doesn’t want to hang around since Junior’s dad is on the town council and is the unofficial mayor, and that’s a headache Barbie can do without. Unfortunately for him, he reaches the outskirts of town just in time to see birds, a woodchuck, and even a small-engine plane crash into the newly formed barrier.
From there, civilization breaks down in record time. And that might be the other issue I have with this novel. With an event so extraordinary as an invisible forcefield, I would have expected a more mundane setting to greet it within its walls. You know, put plain folks in the situation and see how things play out. What Kind does, however, is introduce a sensational villain into the mix who defies belief–Junior Rennie’s father, Big Jim. Where nearly everyone in Chester Mills feels pretty regular and believable, Big Jim comes off as a nearly cartoonish antagonist. And if there are enough Big Jims in America to count him as regular too, then I weep for that nation.
The novel is by no means a bad book. All things considered it’s a good read with some inventive twists and turns. It is a novel that requires an investment of time and of patience, though. As a Stephen King, I am left mildly disappointed. Not because I foolishly compared this novel to The Stand, but because King has–in my opinion at any rate–a recent string of very good stories that make up a second win to his longstanding career. And King is at his best when he’s longstanding rather than longwinded.