What can I say about Under the Dome? It’s a Stephen King novel. It’s fast-paced, disturbing, and full of every-day stuff that scares the pants off of you because yes, it can happen to you. This is what King is good at. He takes something impossible, like a dome cutting off a town from the rest of the outside world, and then fills his story with really scary people and events that come not from anything supernatural but from our own ugly human nature.
In Under the Dome, an invisible barrier comes down around Chester’s Mill, a small town in Maine. My first reaction was, how bad can this be? Except that in the very first chapter, planes fly into the dome and explode, a groundhog is cut in half, and a farmer’s wife (seriously in the wrong place at the wrong time) ends up with one hand on the other side of the dome and dies in her husband’s arms, blood spouting from her severed stump.
So it’s gory from Page 1. But otherwise, the rest of the town is okay, right? Wrong. The dome is only semi-permeable so the air is getting stale and there won’t be any rain in this largely agricultural town. The town’s primary energy source, propane, is in short supply. And most of the town’s health professionals are outside the dome, leaving one aging doctor and one physician’s assistant to care for the whole town.
The real story is how rapidly civilization deteriorates when the constraints of law, government, and miltary are also outside the Dome. Chester’s Mill is run by a corrupt used-car salesman named Big Jim Rennie (yes, a bit of a cliché). The City Council are basically his puppets, one of them addicted to OxyContin and the others implicated in Rennie’s side business, a giant meth lab on the outskirts of town. Rennie recruits the town bullies as his police force and schemes for total control of the town.
It took a while to get into this book because rather than showing you over time how truly ugly people can get, King throws a lot of ugliness at you in the first few chapters. Death, murder, rape, etc. I came very close to putting the book down, wondering why I was putting myself through this. It gets better once King establishes some sympathetic characters and those characters begin to band together to fight Rennie and his force of thugs and criminals. King is at his best in a good vs. evil kind of battle, and this book gives you that.
The book says a lot about how easily people are led in times of crisis, and often by the wrong person. But there were many points in the book where the characters just didn’t act with any common sense. For example, two characters have incriminating evidence about Rennie and instead of copying it and sharing it with others, they just confront him on their own, so it’s no real surprise when that evidence “disappears.” Rennie is a surprisingly clever villain though. Even when you think he’ll be taken down, he comes up with some horrible scheme that puts everyone back on his side. His ability to manipulate is what makes this book scary.
King focuses on the town’s struggle to right itself, but the story is much weaker in the area of what the dome is and who put it there. I was frustrated by how little effort went towards figuring out the cause of the dome and how to get rid of it, and I guessed at the book’s conclusion long before it happened.
All in all, this book was entertaining, disturbing, and hard to put down. It’s suspenseful, and like most of King’s books, extremely vivid. But I wouldn’t call this a run-out-and-get it kind of book, nor is it among my favorite Stephen King books. I enjoyed it while reading it, but it just didn’t stick with me after I was done.