Small town, Big Problems – “Under the Dome” by Stephen King
“Under the Dome” is a beast of a book. Clocking in around 900 pages, I was made once again grateful that I was reading it on a Kindle as opposed to trying to fit it into my purse and haul it during my commute to and from work. I’m largely grateful for this, because I would have gone crazy had I been forced to leave the book at home – because it’s really, really, really good. Like, the kind of book you can’t stop thinking about and can’t wait to return to once you’ve set it down for the night.
Chester’s Mill, Maine is a pretty typical small town – populated by generally nice enough, hardworking folks who (most of the time) get along and are presided over by a somewhat shady local government who may or may not have their hands in some dirty projects. Typical, right? There’s one main restaurant where most people get their socializing and eating done – and it’s from this restaurant that a hero emerges, in the form of a cook named Dale Barbara (known as “Barbie.”)
Barbie is one of the first to realize the giant, earth-stopping event that has taken place. One day, a week or so before Halloween, a giant unbreakable dome appeared over the town. As it first appears, a woodchuck is cut in half and a plane crashes and falls from the sky, both affected by a sudden wall that wasn’t there before. Soon, cars and people are running/crashing into the dome all over the place, the government is alerted, and panic happens. The residents of Chester’s Mill can’t get out, and no one can get in. Despite the outside government’s help – and some Presidential orders from Mr. Obama himself – the citizens of Chester’s Mill are on their own. A loathsome and crooked politician named Big Jim Rennie steps up, appoints local kids (including his murderous son) to positions as policemen, and all hell breaks loose. There are suicides, murders, rapes, riots, and anything else terrible that can happen under the sun as people react to being trapped in an unbreakable dome with only the supplies contained within the town.
Big Jim’s local “deputies” run amuck, doing whatever they want without considering anything else other than the power they’ve all been entrusted with. On the flip side, Barbie and his group of followers realize the danger the townspeople are all in, as the Dome provides a great deal of problems. Namely, that the pollutants the people are releasing into the air from gasoline, propane, and just general life-stuff can’t get out of the Dome’s walls.
Stephen King, you’re the man. A tip of the hat to you.
What Mr. King does brilliantly within the confines of this massive and complicated book is humanize the people trapped inside. In addition to our hero (Barbie) and our ultimate villain (Big Jim Rennie) we meet over thirty other people trapped inside, from preachers to kids to cops to widows to the plucky lady who runs the town newspaper. Each of them have layered stories, and each of them are worth reading about. Even the bad guys are fascinating, as a mob mentality sets in and martial law takes over.
Now, I can’t say a whole lot about The Dome itself without spoiling the ending of this book, but I will say this; At about the halfway point of the book, I started to worry if – after reading ALL these pages – the ending was going to be satisfying. Mr. King is one of my favorite authors of all time, but his endings are 50/50. (For every “Carrie” there’s an “It.” And don’t get me started on how pi$$ed I was at the ending of “Gerald’s Game.”) I’m pleased as punch to say that “Under the Dome” has an ending that, though it appears to finally happen in the last couple pages (when you think there’s going to be no resolution at all) is satisfying. There’s no cop-out ending, no cheap reliance on “aliens” or “terrorists.” It’s much more deep than that, and makes a great deal of sense when you look at the book as a whole and what it says about people and how societies work.
“Under the Dome” is a super book, and one I’m hitting myself for waiting so long to read.
I’m sure someday it will be made into a movie, or fifty-part miniseries. Honestly, I can’t wait.