December 18, 2011

All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

A lightning review of Under the Dome by Stephen King (New York: Gallery–Simon & Shuster, 2009). Trade paperback, 1074 pp.

Chester's Mill is a quaint little Maine town of 2,000 people just north of Castle Rock. Without warning, an impenetrable and invisible dome suddenly descends upon the town, trapping the locals inside (and causing the deaths of several). The dome admits air and water, but nothing else: food supplies are limited, and the only electricity comes from propane-powered generators. The crisis leaves used-car dealer and Second Selectman "Big Jim" Rennie without significant opposition in the town, and he makes a power play to consolidate his control, stacking the police force with his cronies, and hoarding what remains of the propane for the meth lab he runs behind the Christian radio station.

Meanwhile, the military is trying to solve the dome problem. They appoint Iraq veteran and fry cook Dale "Barbie" Barbara as their liaison, and put him in charge of Chester's Mill. He is also tasked with finding the source of the dome. Rennie, with his influence threatened by Barbie, frames him for a string of murders actually committed by himself and his son, Junior.

Under the Dome has Stephen King's usual archetypes, including the likeable take-charge everyman, corrupt officials, and well-rounded local colour. And with local druggies stockpiling weapons and explosives, you know that it will inevitably end poorly for the town. All in all, the novel is a worthy read from King, and not dissimilar to his early epic The Stand. However, the payoff at the end doesn't quite measure up to the 1,100-page buildup.

Incidentally, someone (connected to King, his publisher, or otherwise, I don't know) has put together a typical small-town Web site for Chester's Mill and some of the local businesses from the novel. Nice attention to detail, guys!