November 9, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Under the Dome" by Stephen King

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Scribner (2009)
1074 pages
ISBN 978-1-4391-4850-1

Now that I've finally read through Under the Dome, I feel I can say with all honesty that I'm in the best shape of my life. Why? Because reading the hardcover edition of this book was a workout. Nearly 1,100 pages added up to be not only an epic read, but a hefty dumbbell by which to exercise.

And that sums up my primary complaint about this novel: it's too long.

I understand how crafting a story with dozens of characters requires a fair amount of space in order to establish them in such a way that they feel reasonably genuine and sympathetic. But, let's be honest, the events of the novel do not carry over a great passage of time--and the events depicted in the novel are at times drawn out to an interminable level. I'm not likely to be accused anytime soon of being an editor, but despite the purported cutting down of this book from an even greater length to its existing size, I think there is plenty of fluff left in the novel to whittle it down to a healthy--and relatively trim--eight hundred pages. I can think of a couple of superfluous scenes involving the points of view of animals which would not be missed.

As for the story, it's an interesting one that's for sure. On an uneventful October morning, the bucolic little Maine town of Chester Mills is unceremoniously trapped within an invisible forcefield. Not even the water from the brooks can penetrate the barrier beyond a miniscule trickle. The town essentially becomes the world's largest snowglobe.

Trapped inside is Dale Barbara, a retired soldier and vagabond hash slinger, looking to vacate the town after a violent altercation with Junior Rennie and a few others. Barbie doesn't want to hang around since Junior's dad is on the town council and is the unofficial mayor, and that's a headache Barbie can do without. Unfortunately for him, he reaches the outskirts of town just in time to see birds, a woodchuck, and even a small-engine plane crash into the newly formed barrier.

From there, civilization breaks down in record time. And that might be the other issue I have with this novel. With an event so extraordinary as an invisible forcefield, I would have expected a more mundane setting to greet it within its walls. You know, put plain folks in the situation and see how things play out. What Kind does, however, is introduce a sensational villain into the mix who defies belief--Junior Rennie's father, Big Jim. Where nearly everyone in Chester Mills feels pretty regular and believable, Big Jim comes off as a nearly cartoonish antagonist. And if there are enough Big Jims in America to count him as regular too, then I weep for that nation.

The novel is by no means a bad book. All things considered it's a good read with some inventive twists and turns. It is a novel that requires an investment of time and of patience, though. As a Stephen King, I am left mildly disappointed. Not because I foolishly compared this novel to The Stand, but because King has--in my opinion at any rate--a recent string of very good stories that make up a second win to his longstanding career. And King is at his best when he's longstanding rather than longwinded.



  1. I keep looking at the size of the book and the rest of my books to read and thinking, 'When's the mini series on?'

  2. A fair review - I've been disillusioned with King's work for quite a time now. I think the last book of his I really enjoyed was 'On Writing', and one or two stories from 'Everything's Eventual'. 'Under the Dome' is bloated and flabby, and does not inspire confidence his next book.

  3. Darn, this one sounded so intriguing to me....
    I agree with Cate -- I'll wait for the mini series.

  4. I don't know. Call me a sucker, but I still enjoy the vast majority of King's work, even the stuff that tends to be panned by other fans. The last book of his that I didn't enjoy was "From a Buick Eight". I liked "Under the Dome", and didn't mind the (admittedly) bloated length--although the animal POV scenes are probably best left to "Hills Have Eyes II" and "Zoltan: Hound of Dracula". I like immersing myself in a massive, lap-crushing novel from time-to-time...although it was mind-boggling that so little length of time passed over the course of so many pages.

    Good write up!

  5. I enjoyed it, to a point. The last 50 pages were basically King yawning, though. That's how it seemed to me, anyway. I loved how the character interaction sort of took me back to the days where King was writing character rich stories like Needful Things.

    I'm a King diehard, though so I may be biased. If not for the lackluster ending, I'd easily say this is in the top 5 of Kingdom. But, given the ending, it barely makes it into the top 10.

    Great review!

  6. I thought it was an interesting read, and I actually got through it relatively quickly, but I too had a problem with how fast things broke down in this town. A day after they are cut off from the world, practically everybody goes apeshit and somehow a freaking town selectman (I don't even know what the hell that really IS) suddenly becomes God in this place. All the craziness that happened was a bit unbelievable at times.

  7. Cate - Ha. Yeah, the hardcover is crazy heavy for a book. The most uncomfortable book, literally, I've ever read.

    Shaun - Did you read Duma Key? That was a very good one that he published recently.

    Andrew - Is there an actual mini-series in the works? I hope it's not Tommyknockers bad.

    Jonny - Haven't read Buick 8 yet, but it is on my shelf.

    Barry - I think the whole book could be put on Jenny Craig.

    The Girl - The rapidity with which things break down is astonishing, and kind of sucked me out of the story, to be honest.