In the interest of fairness I need to come clean about something. That something is the fact that I am a diehard, immovable, Stephen King fan. So, when I write a review of one of his books, I always feel a little weird. There are virtually no stories of his that I have not liked. There are a few, but they are far outweighed by the number of stories and novels and movies that I have liked.
As such, I feel I need to qualify this review. Mostly, this review is for other Stephen King fans. Those of us who feel compelled to read everything that comes from his word processor or computer or whatever he uses these days. We are the ones who feel we need to be at the bookstore the day his latest tome comes out to buy the book in hardcover. We are the ones who read each word like a tasty morsel from a great gourmet meal and then sit back, at the end, satisfied and smacking our lips and wondering when the next course is going to arrive.
With that in mind, I have finished his latest work called “Under the Dome” and, fellow King fans, this is a book you are going to enjoy just like you have enjoyed some of his big works such as “It” and “The Stand” and his epic “Dark Tower” series. Of course, to compare his works is really unfair. In fact, while reading this book I had someone ask, “How is it?” I then replied. The person then asked, “Is it better than ‘The Stand?'” Well, of course not, but few books by anyone in recent memory could qualify for this.
This is an epic book. It stands at a moose-skull-crushing 1,074 pages in hardcover. The book is difficult to pick up and ready easily, in fact, it is so large in the hardcover permutation. Balancing this one easily on your knee while you sit on the couch is a challenge. The sheer weight of it in my briefcase was enough to give my shoulders and ache.
That being said, King has done something he does so well, yet again. He has created an entire community. In this case, that community is the tiny town of Chesters Mill in, of course, Maine. This is a town that is hiding some big secrets while appearing, to the outside world, to be a normal small town. As anyone who has spent any time reading horror and thriller fiction knows, every small town has big secrets and they are usually doozies.
King has done this many times before. He enjoys creating entire civilizations. He creates entire communities like a man who has bought himself an ant farm, and then he enjoys shaking the hell out of that ant farm and watching his creation scramble about and try to survive. Of course, when he does it well, he takes the reader along for the roller coaster ride and leaves him or her gasping for more at the end.
In “Under the Dome” he is largely successful. Chester’s Mill waked up one day to find that an invisible barrier, the Dome, has inexplicably clamped down over the entire town. No one can get in and no one can get out. The town is locked in an invisible prison that extends many thousands of feet into the air.
What this does is cause the town to start to look inward. It causes a very evil and greedy man named Big Jim Rennie to make his ultimate grab for power. It causes Rennie’s son, suffering from an undiagnosed brain tumor, to become a murderous bastard. Sides are drawn as the entire novel, and the town, becomes a microcosm of the world itself.
This is one of King’s most political novels to date. His character, the gigantic and inherently evil Big Jim, is a man who wants only power and absolute power. For him, the dome is a good thing. He can now control this town like his own country. He invents enemies for the rest of the world to fear, plants evidence, and then sets about acting like the good father who wants to protect his children as he slowly makes himself into a kind of dictator.
King has a large cast of characters here. There are far too many to mention. Like most King novels, this is not a straight-up horror novel. This is a strange adventure with a little bit of science fiction thrown in for good measure. This is a study of humanity and how even a small town can become a violent, desperate, and horrific place if the wrong people are put in charge.
The characters, as is King’s forte, are well-written, rounded and believable. He loves creating characters that you are forced to care about and then throwing them into seemingly unwinnable situations. He is also not afraid to kill off a popular character within a story, so you can never really be sure who is going to come out of things in the end.
The writing is generally well done. The story moves along amazingly fast, despite the length of the novel. You will find yourself caught up in it, turning pages as fast as you can, trying to get to the end. Take your time, this one is a marathon, not a sprint.
King has been influenced, I think, by spending so much time with J.K. Rowling in recent years. He and Rowling did a reading together in New York a few years back. He introduced Harry Potter elements to the last few chapters of the Dark Tower series. In this book he does strange things such as have a small dog become part of the fate of the entire town. Dean Koontz does this kind of thing as well. I love dogs, but I would not want my fate in the hands of mine, if you get my meaning.
He also seems to be embracing the big sloppy and silly sentimental scenes, particularly between parents and children, as he gets older. Some of it rings just a tad corny and pulled me out of the story a bit.
However, the great thing is, with a story this long, you can settle back in, amaze at more treachery and gasp as you hope the heroes find another way out of the mess they are in. King stumbled a bit out of the block after his accident. With his last few, he has shown he is back in fighting form. “Under the Dome” is an excellent read and King fans will not be disappointed.