Completely out of the blue a clear dome appears over the town of Chester’s Mill, in Maine, of course. A plane crashes into it. A groundhog is sliced in half. A woman gardening in her yard has a hand sheared off. How did this thing get there? Who or what is responsible? How can it be removed?
This is not the Stephen King I am used to. I have been a fan since the beginning and have read the vast majority, although not all, of King’s books. For me Under the Dome
kicks it up a notch. Sure there is supernatural creepiness, and an explanation that is, well, disappointing. But this is Stephen King. Duh-uh. If you read the guy for his wonderful denouement explanations you probably shouldn't bother. What makes King so successful is that he writes great characters, draws you in and keeps you there once he has you, while scaring the bejesus out of you often enough to matter. He kept me under his dome for all 1072 pages. The addition to his usual toolkit this time is his expansion to the political.
“If I'm going to spend a year writing a single draft of a book, it should be about something.”
Which of course begs a question about the value of spending, say half
a year. What is the duration of labor at which one must cross over from pure entertainment to something
I've always been a political novelist, and those things have always interested me. Firestarter is a political novel. The Dead Zone is a political novel. There's that scene in The Dead Zone where Johnny Smith sees Greg Stillson in the future starting a nuclear war. Around my house we kinda laugh when Sarah Palin comes on TV, and we say, "That's Greg Stillson as a woman." (http://www.salon.com/books/int/2008/10/23/stephen_king/)
More scary than funny to me. Well, maybe Dome is not so out of the way for King.
But while political commentary has definitely found its way into King’s books, there are few who consider him to be a political author. His other concerns usually take precedence. In Under the Dome
he continues a lifelong fascination with small town life. Most of his people have significant secrets. And we get to see their character from how they cope with the stress they experience.
The book took a long time to reach its final form.
“I started it in 1976, got about 75 pages into it — and then I saw what the scope of the thing was going to be, how many technological issues it raised, and I buckled. I’m not a sci-fi writer; I don’t know a lot about technology, so I thought I’d try again, set it in an apartment building, and then I wouldn’t have to deal with what the weather would be like under a dome. But I didn’t like any of the characters, so I put it away.” (http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/116440-self-proclaimed-lazy-author-stephen-king-releases-his-51st-novel/)
He revisited the story in the 1980s. Renamed “The Cannibals” it still had to do with people isolated in an apartment building. And still avoided having to cope with the technical demands of having the story set under a dome. The inspiration for the reduction in venue was a stay in a less than appealing area of suburban Pittsburgh during the filming of Creepshow
. He wrote almost five hundred pages this time, but was still unable to figure out all that he needed to figure out. It was not until the new millennium that the manuscript turned up again. This time he was able to garner the expertise needed to get past his technical roadblocks. He returned to the dome notion and wrote up a storm.
people do if stuck together, whether under a dome or in an apartment building? Perhaps a less tropical version of William Golding’s classic, with adults gone wild instead of kids and without the beach. Let’s just say that things do not go well, and dark forces, human ones, come to the fore.
His boogey man this time is personified by that most iconic totem of dishonesty, a used-car salesman, named Big Jim Rennie. Big Jim may be the Second Selectman in the town of Chester’s Mill, but he is the real power in town. First Selectman Andy Sanders is pretty much a smiling, charming non-entity, content to do whatever Big Jim wants. And the third Selectman is a drug-addicted woman who is reliant on Big Jim and Andy for her supplies. If you might think Big Jim is a stand-in for a certain vice president, you would be right. All the way to his questionable ticker. It might be a stretch to see in Rennie’s son, Junior, a stand-in for Cheney’s activist progeny, but maybe not. If you think Andy might be a stand-in for Dubya, right again, complete with an addiction issue. King sees Bush and Andy not so much as evil as weak, and the portrayal here reflects that. Rennie seemed pretty evil to me, complete with his insanely hypocritical refusal to use or tolerate profanity while behaving as profanely as possible, stealing critical supplies from the hospital, among other places, to support his meth lab, one of the largest in the country. He tells himself he is doing God’s will.
“I enjoyed taking the Bush-Cheney dynamic and shrinking it to the small-town level,” he said. “The last administration interested me because of the aura of fundamentalist religion that surrounded it and the rather amazing incompetency of those top two guys. I thought there was something blackly humorous in it. So in a sense, ‘Under the Dome’ is an apocalyptic version of ‘The Peter Principle.’ ” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/books/review/Upfront-t.html)
Expanding on his Cheney/Bush analogy, he goes through a list of items one can associate not only with that dynamic duo but with others throughout history who have used crisis as a way to consolidate power, fomenting discord by sponsoring provocative and secretive actions (think Reichstag fire) as a way to cast blame on enemies, raising a private army (whether in 1930s Germany or contemporary Blackwater, sorry, Xe), planning to massacre one’s opponents (back to the funny moustache guy again), spying on one’s own citizens (see Patriot Act), controlling or at least monitoring communications (ditto), attempting to destroy opposing media, and so on. No one actually says “Kill the Pig” but if asked to, some would. It is certainly no coincidence that the evildoers here go after a truth-telling newspaper named The Democrat. There is also a countervailing force, the Jack of this scenario, although he has a name that sounds incongruous here. Dale Barbara, known as Barbie, is an ex-military wanderer, last employed at the local diner, someone who does all he can to avoid conflict, but like a certain Corleone, keeps getting dragged back.
It is interesting that the hero here is a reluctant military guy and the baddies are both civilians and cops. Note also that the honest reporter is a Republican.
Keeping a hand in with supernatural elements, some town residents, particularly children, have premonitions, visions of unpleasant events to come. Gee, do ya think they might?
King keeps the action moving, and all the while gives us characters we can care about, warts and all. That is his greatest talent. Don’t worry about the explanation for the dome. It is the reactions of the people contained within it that matter. The Dome itself could have come out of a mystical cracker jack box.
While it might have been no fun for the residents of Chester’s Mill to be stuck with each other for so long, it is no chore to keep an eye on them for all 1,072 pages, through a dome, darkly.
My favorite review nugget comes from Charles Taylor, in a review for BarnesandNobleReview.com. He calls the book “A Twilight Zone version of It Can't Happen Here"
June 23, 2013 - A New York Times article Life, Hermetically Sealed
by Neil Genzliger about the impending show
Some promotional videos
for the show on CBS
A few other SKs we have reviewedThe ShiningDuma Key Lisey's Story