My goal this year was to finish up Stephen King’s non-Bachman canon. (Bachman was slated for 2018.) I have about ten more books to go and fully expected to be reading the latest King new in hardback in October or November.
Nope. This 1074-page monster took me from February to this past weekend to read. It wasn’t that it was a chore or even that it was long. It was complex, and my life started changing rapidly right around the time I started reading. As a result, it took me an abnormally long time to finish this one. But enough about it’s length. What is it? And is it any good?
Under the Dome is a massively complex book that probably is best read in small bites. It concerns the town of Chesters Mill in western Maine, bordered by Castle Rock and TR 90, two places where King has already visited enough destruction already. Someone or something has dropped an invisible dome over this town of 2000 people, one that perfectly fits the town borders. On his way out of town is a drifter named Dale Barbara, aka “Barbie.” He’s stuck just as the dome comes down (killing a couple people in a small plane and slicing a deer in half in the process.) The dome ignites a firestorm of activity on the outside as the US government swoops in. The President appoints Barbie to take over inside as he’s more than a dishwasher. He’s a former special operations soldier. Unfortunately, that puts him on a collision course with the town’s Second Selectman and local used car tycoon Big Jim Rennie. Big Jim is a devout Christian who runs a drug operation. He also sees the dome as a means to cement his power, appointing new cops from as many inexperienced civilians as he can find. The resemblance to mad dictators in the past is hard to miss.
Under the Dome has one of the largest casts of characters of any King novel, larger than The Stand or It. And most of the characters survive until late in the story, whereas The Stand killed off half of them about halfway through in one single incident. But The Stand, for its sprawl and vast setting, is a pretty linear story. Under the Dome, while linear in its timeline, is nonetheless more nebular in its backstories. It’s not a hard story to follow. King is not in the habit of overwhelming his readers. It’s with Under the Dome that King’s mojo seems to have returned for good after his 1999 accident. The novels that followed that incident showed a marked shift in quality that got progressively better. Finishing his Dark Tower series might have had something to do with it, but a brush with death sometimes can re-energize a person.
King’s output since Under the Dome has been considered some of his best work. He has even said he attempted Under the Dome early in his career only to realize he did not have the skills back then to pull it off. I’m glad he waited.