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Length: 1072 pages (not a book you want to lug around in a tote bag!)
Start Date: Sept. 20, 2010
Finished Date: Oct. 6, 2010
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: Stephen King's latest
Summary: An unexplained invisible forcefield surrounds a small Maine farming town, which soon results in catastrophic physical, political, environmental, and even criminal events between two formed alliances led by an Iraq War soldier new in town backed by an ambitious newspaper owner and a used-car salesman with dangerous political aspirations, a spineless police chief, criminal underage cops, and a cast of troubled residents who will stop at absolutely nothing to survive.
Stephen King wrote one whopper of a book. Clocking in at 1072 pages, it's a wonder that in this age of short-term attention spans he could create a bestselling epic that returns to his glory days of The Stand. A simple test of humanity is created in Under the Dome, mixing elements of apocalyptic fiction, sci-fi, and western (there are numerous references and allusions to Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and High Noon, among others). There is a surprising blend of pulp, recognized especially in the often hit-and-miss dialogue (sometimes it slams home, other times it veers into cornball territory), and offers pleasant homages to old chestnuts that his younger generation of readers will likely see as fresh. Bringing back the theme of psychological fear and destruction caused by isolation he explored in The Mist, King expands his scope (and setting from a supermarket to an entire small town) to probe the ugliness of human nature that emerges in the face of an unknown phenomena that tests the will, sustainability, foresight, and care that the residents of Chester's Mill are divided over and eventually form alliances over.
There is lots of build-up (in fact, over 1000 pages of it) to a skimpy but explosive 20-page climax, followed by a downhill coast to the end, but the build-up is what creates the story's best tension: the tests against an unseen force, the stressors that cause people to panic, the corruption that exists in the town's political leadership, and the pre-existing traumas that are spiked uncontrollably by the entrapments of being under the Dome.
A great reference tool at the beginning of the book (besides the neato map) is a short cast list that comes in handy early on when you are initially introduced to a busload of quirky, though overall not fully developed characters. Why aren't they given more space to grow? Because the goshdarn Dome is in the way! The primary focus of the novel isn't the indivdual development of a character, but the group dynamic threatened and pushed to the brink by an unnatural disaster. Chester's Mill's varied population will remind you of American heroes and villains--I recognized allusions of Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, but also Barack Obama.
And now come a couple of minor beefs. There is certainly a question of length. Did the novel really need to be this long? At about the halfway point, Under the Dome suffers a kind of peak syndrome where the excitement starts to ebb, but I encourage you to plow through because around page 700, it starts cooking up again! Also, there is a question of characters. How many is too many? I think there are certainly too many mentioned only once or twice that could have either been cut out or combined with another character to deepen their profile. Some minor characters are grossly underdeveloped and no motive to their behaviour is present (most major ones are strong though not fully developed). Finally, what is hard to believe, besides the occurence and permanence of the Dome itself, is how widespread stupidity is amongst the town, bred by hate, ego, and power. Conspiracies against the obvious "good guys" are dumb even by the dumbest standards--how anyone could believe them is beyond me. Then again, a certain former President was elected two terms...*cough*
As for the ending, it's not as bad as some negative critics claim. Think about this: if you were King, how exactly would you end the novel (based on the premise given) that wasn't too obvious, didn't veer into the outlandish, and was satisfying enough to not feel that you spent over 1000 pages just to feel cheated in the end? I think he made a rational decision on the ending that ties back to a recognizable, highly personal declaration, and the three final paragraphs of page 1071 actually made me smile. Please share with me if it did the same for you after you read it :o)
On the front cover of the trade paperback edition is a review quoted as: "The best yet from the best ever." I would definitely agree with that--the newest book of King's I've read is Cell, which was all right but not his best. I think the key word in the quotation is "yet"; it's not King's best ever, but the latest from greatest is pretty darn good.
Rank: (A)- A Page-Turner