Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: Under the Dome, by Stephen King

Under the Dome: A Novel


Likely King's best novel in years, Under the Dome grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as you might expect, and even more so. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: the town of Chester's Mill, Maine has become cut off from the world by a mysterious transparent "dome" which appears out of nowhere on a crisp fall day. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The town is on its own.

Less a traditional horror story (though there's plenty of gruesome moments), and more a hostage situation on a grand scale, UtD is most effective when showcasing the evil men (and all the other inhabitants of beleaguered Chester's Mill) can do when traditional moral structures collapse around them, when the world shrinks and becomes alien and full of menace, when any idea of a sympathetic, or even rational, god has gone the way of fresh supplies . . . and fresh air.

Along the way the reader meets a cast of characters roughly the size of a small Maine town; chief among them the corrupt Selectman who views the crisis as a golden opportunity; the adolescent whiz-kids intent on helping to solve it; the Revelations-spewing meth addict who runs the town's Christian (and only) radio station; the overtaxed PA who becomes the town's de-facto doctor; and leading the cast, a former soldier on the drift, who manages to just miss his opportunity to get out while the getting is good.

With strongly delineated heroes  -- flawed though they may be -- to root for, and plenty of despicable self-proclaimed "good guys" to hiss at (small-town cops and elected officials take rather a drubbing, as do unchristian Christians),UtD takes an inexplicable disaster and puts a human face on the toll it exacts. I won't say any more than this -- when I was halfway through the book, I couldn't imagine any way things could get worse for Chester's Mill. Fortunately, good old Uncle Steve's imagination is a long way from running dry.

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