Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book review: Under the Dome: a novel by Stephen King

I’m not sure why anyone ever bothers to review Stephen King’s books anymore. They’re such monstrous best sellers no matter what, and the faithful fans devour them no matter how many pages there are … they’re pretty much always a slam-dunk. Some are better (The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining) than others (Dreamcatcher) but King knows his audience and keeps them happy.
I have read nearly all of his books and this last one, Under the Dome , kept me fairly happy. It’s the story of what happens in a small (fictional) town in Maine when one day, all of a sudden, an invisible, impenetrable dome crashes down over it, cutting the town and its people off from everything. There’s no more electricity, although being rural Maine, nearly everyone has a generator, but there’s no more propane deliveries, or food deliveries, or deliveries of anything. The whole book takes place over the period of just days, following the townspeople as they deal (or not) with this strange happening.

There are no monsters or long-legged beasties in Under the Dome - only the townsfolk. One of King’s strengths, I think, is his keen depiction of reg’lar folks; here in this book he’s on his game once again, and he doesn’t paint a very pretty picture. Some of the Chester’s Mill people are stand-up types – the owner of the local newspaper, the sheriff and his wife, the hospital’s physician’s assistant, a drifter holding down a job flipping pancakes at the diner – but many are not, just like in any small town. There are the dumb thugs whose lives peaked in their high school football career, the drug dealers, the power-mad big-fish-in-a-small-pond politicians. Add an unthinkable, unescapable, rapidly worsening quality of life situation and you have trouble, friends, right here in Chester’s Mill.

At 1,072 pages, Under the Dome is a little long, which is probably the author’s biggest weakness. While reading it, I mostly didn’t find that it dragged, due to the strength of the characters, but for all that the story went on and on and on, the finale seemed a little hasty. Perhaps he could have spent some of those many pages rounding it out. Regardless, readers who are new to Stephen King aren’t going to start with this ginormous book and his loyal fans are going to find this feast of words just fine.

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