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Customer Review

717 of 782 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but addicting thriller, November 10, 2009
This review is from: Under the Dome: A Novel (Hardcover)
Stephen King, no novice at penning lengthy tomes, turns in another 1,000-plus-page behemoth with Under the Dome, a book he started writing in 1976 but abandoned for more than three decades. More than 30 years later, with one of the most remarkable literary careers in history under his belt, he tackled the project again, this time completing a story that plumbs the depths of human wickedness.

The town of Chester's Mill, Maine, is a pretty typical-seeming smallish New England community. It has a diner, a used car dealership, a couple of churches, a supermarket, a newspaper, and a religious radio station. Most of its 2,000 or so residents are good, honest people who genuinely care for each other and for their town.

The scene changes abruptly when a mysterious and invisible barrier materializes out of nowhere, completely cutting the town off from the rest of the world. Within minutes, the death toll begins to rise. A plane smashes into the barrier followed by a number of cars. As scientists and government and military officials scramble to find a way to break through the barrier, those inside the dome have to quickly adjust to their new reality. And with Stephen King manning the controls, it's just a matter of time before that reality turns sinister.

Within days, Chester's Mill turns into a depressing cauldron of murder, corruption, conspiracy, and increasing fear. The town's police fall under the control of a vicious town selectman with dictatorial ambitions. Resources are seized. Vocal dissenters are jailed--or worse. Soon the air quality inside the dome begins to change. Illnesses increase. Children begin to have seizures and frightening visions. Fear leads to anger, and people start to do things they wouldn't have dreamed of just days earlier. As tension mounts, the stage is set for a final cataclysmic showdown between those who will stop at nothing to enforce their agenda for the town and those who believe the town's increasingly dangerous leaders must be stopped at any cost.

On some levels, Under the Dome is almost allegorical. The town's blossoming dictatorship is reminiscent of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, with a charismatic leader ruling by force, police who operate outside the law, and "police solidarity" armbands for citizens. The worsening environment inside the dome could be a picture of climate change. The fact that the villains are all right-wing fundamentalist Christians (extremely hypocritical Christians at that) is probably a statement of some sort, and there are a few references to Falujah that some might see as antimilitary. In any case, whether or not the author intended to send a message through the story, the book absolutely illustrates the tendency of power to corrupt and the inherent wickedness of the human heart.

Under the Dome is not an easy book to read, and not only because of its size. Readers familiar with King's work will be unsurprised to find foul language and sexual content, some of it disturbing (most notably a gang rape scene and hints of necrophilia). There's plenty of violence, quite a bit of drug use, and lots of examples (very nearly too many, in fact) of people treating each other in all kinds of horrible ways. Though the dome is the reason the townspeople are in their predicament, the real conflict in the book is not people vs. the dome but people vs. each other. This book could just as easily have been titled The Worst-Case Scenario because on page after page, just when it seems the forces of good might be about to catch a break, King pulls the rug out from under them yet again. There's very little in the way of a redemptive message.

Yet all this is offset by King's trademark brilliance in character development and plot pacing, and much of the prose is beautifully crafted. King utilizes an antiquated but effective technique in his narration, slipping into present tense and addressing the reader directly at times to draw attention to a particular item of interest in a scene or to explicitly foreshadow some coming tragedy. Careful readers will find a few references to other Stephen King books peppered throughout.

When he wants to, Stephen King is capable of writing stunningly beautiful stories championing the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity (Duma Key is an example). Under the Dome is not such a book. This is a story about human ugliness, and it's all the more uncomfortable because it rings true. Even so, the brilliance of King's writing is evident on every one of the 1,074 pages. Fair warning: don't start this book unless you have some time on your hands. Uncomfortable though the book may be, it's compelling and suspenseful, and once you start reading, it quickly becomes very difficult to put down.
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Showing 1-10 of 43 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 11, 2009 8:07:17 AM PST
L. Caminiti says:
Thanks for the revue and adding in the aspects of right wing extremists and antimilitary and hints at global warming. Because of these elements I will not buy the book. I am sick and tired of authors lecturing me when I read.

Posted on Nov 11, 2009 7:20:10 PM PST
Carson Hall says:
Jeremy, thank you for your review, excellently written and thorough. I look forward to getting my copy (is in the mail now), so I can start reading. I just hope that it isn't as addicting as The Stand. I read that in 1978 when it was first released, and could not put it down. the rest of my life came to a complete standstill, but now I am older with more responsibility, lol.

Posted on Nov 11, 2009 8:22:31 PM PST
Thanks for your thorough review. Like L. Caminiti, I believe I will pass on this one. Too much of a political agenda for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2009 7:40:59 AM PST
Yes, King has assiduously promoted a radical left-wing agenda in much of his recent writing. That's why I stopped reading him. He needs a good editor, but I guess he's beyond that now. Too bad. He is a marvelous storyteller when he's not being a political lobbyist.

Posted on Nov 12, 2009 1:37:27 PM PST
Leon says:
The bad guys are "right-wing fundamentalist Christians"? Yawn....

Posted on Nov 12, 2009 10:31:28 PM PST
JoJo says:
Thanks Jeremy, great review. You did an artful job of sharing your thoughts and reactions to major story elements without giving away the story! I have a sense of whether the book would be a fit for me, with all of the experience of discovery in tact. Well done! Jordan

Posted on Nov 13, 2009 5:08:35 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 13, 2009 5:10:10 AM PST
rbnn says:
I do not agree with you that "much of the prose is beautifully crafted." The prose is mostly pedestrian, mostly dialogue for that matter. It also has nothing like the steady buildup of tension that characterizes the great King novels, notably Salem's Lot or The Stand or even Dead Zone.

And I also feel your statement "readers familiar with King's work will be unsurprised to find foul language" is misleading. True, there tends to be some foul language in King's work. But this novel is subsumed with it. It permeates the dialogue and the description to an offensive and off-putting degree, far more than in a typical King novel. The characters barely speak - they barely think - except in profanity. It's practically nauseating to read at times.

It's nothing like the great King novels, say Salem's Lot, which (a) did have "beautifully crafted" prose and (b) had little profanity and no gratuitous profanity.

Posted on Nov 13, 2009 12:11:56 PM PST
J. Smallwood says:
I was pleased to see in your review that King started with this idea over 30 years ago.... when I saw the cover I was concerned that he'd gotten the idea watching The Simpsons Movie. :) j/k This sounds like one I'll get from the library instead of the bookstore. Thanks for the in-depth review.

Posted on Nov 18, 2009 3:30:36 PM PST
spank_an_elf says:
"The fact that the villains are all right-wing fundamentalist Christians (extremely hypocritical Christians at that) is probably a statement of some sort..."

Yes, a statement that SK finds those types of over the top, bigoted people to be scary. After finishing the book today I admit he does reduce a few of his characters to insane, one-note caricatures, but by and large he points out that those who love to hide behind religion to defend their cruel, intolerant actions are reprehensible, especially when they hold political office. Granted he's pointing out the obvious...

Posted on Nov 19, 2009 2:39:41 PM PST
mostserene1 says:
I will read the book based on this review as I look forward to heroes who are extreme left wing radicals (otherwise known as normal people). I should point out to readers that there is a codeword for extreme RIGHT wing christians. It is Republican.
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