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.