Saturday, January 08, 2011

Under the Dome, by Stephen King

If there are two things that Stephen King knows, it's character and setting.  Despite the bizarre situations that he places them in, his characters usually feel completely authentic.  In fact, I think that his real talent as a writer is imagining what the average person would do when confronted with the impossible.  In that sense, Under the Dome represents the most obvious example of what he has spent a career writing about.  He does nothing so well as place his characters under the microscope to see what they will do in in the most trying of circumstances.



Imagine that your entire town is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by an impermeable, impenetrable barrier.  Nothing can go in or out.  In an instant, you become just one creature in a very large terrarium.  That is exactly what happens to the small Maine town of Chester Mills.  As the government outside the dome tries to figure out where it came from and how to get rid of it, the residents of The Mills go about the business of figuring out how to survive their captivity.  In classic King style, there is the corrupt town leader, the drifter with a past, the good-hearted average guy, the strong, feisty woman (in this case, the owner of the town paper), and a cast of townspeople (good, bad, or a little of both) who make up this particular microcosm of America.  If I thought about it long enough, I could probably match every main character from Under the Dome with their counterpart in The Stand (my favorite King book by a green mile!).  What makes this familiar cast work time after time is the fact that most of us know someone exactly like them.  The power struggle unfolds with a Lord of the Flies inevitability, with some people rising to the occasion, and others showing their true, evil nature.

My one criticism of this book is its length.  I'm not averse to a 1000+ page book, if all 1000+ pages are integral to moving the story along.  However, the middle 400 pages or so of this particular tome dragged.  I suppose when you have a story with this many moving parts (there are something like 20 important characters, with many more minor characters), you run the risk of getting bogged down in each individual storyline.  In the end, however, it was worth it.  The last 100 pages were fast-paced and exciting.  And in an example of another thing I love about King's writing, there are no safe characters.  This gives his writing a delicious unpredictability.    But, satisfactorily, the truly bad guys almost always get what's coming to them.

6 comments:

  1. I have heard a lot of people say that the middle of this book dragged a bit. I have never read a Stephen King novel, but I know that my mother owns this book so I might give it a go - everyone should read at least one Stephen King book

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  2. If you are just going to read one Stephen King book, please let it be The Stand! I liked the Dome, though I do agree about the middle. I know what you mean about no safe characters! We should know better but it is hard not to get attached to them.

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  3. I have this one on my Nook. Thanks for sharing your thoughts....

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  4. Shannon, The Stand is my favorite of his too. Well, except for the Dark Tower series, but I wouldn't recommend that to a Stephen King newbie.

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  5. I agree that the middle dragged but the first 200 & last 100 pages whipped by. I'm planning to read The Stand for the Stephen King Challenge this year & though I'm dreading the commitment to another 1000+ page book (arrgh...), I'm curious about its comparison to Under the Dome that you mentioned.

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  6. I attempted listening to this book over Christmas break and I just didn't feel the need to continue - although I do still wonder about the Dome. I may have to pick it up again this Summer. Great review.

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