Monday, August 15, 2011
Review of Under the Dome by Stephen King
I bought this hardcover book from Times Bookstore. After reading it, I felt that this is a brilliant book, not perfect but the storytelling is enough to smooth through all the kinks identified, in my humble opinion. Below is a review that I found that covers 90% of what I felt about the book. Nevertheless, do look at the last paragraph where I try to summaries my feelings on this book.
Stephen King, no novice at penning lengthy tomes, turns in another 1,000-plus-page behemoth with Under the Dome, a book he started writing in 1976 but abandoned for more than three decades. More than 30 years later, with one of the most remarkable literary careers in history under his belt, he tackled the project again, this time completing a story that plumbs the depths of human wickedness.
The town of Chester's Mill, Maine, is a pretty typical-seeming smallish New England community. It has a diner, a used car dealership, a couple of churches, a supermarket, a newspaper, and a religious radio station. Most of its 2,000 or so residents are good, honest people who genuinely care for each other and for their town.
The scene changes abruptly when a mysterious and invisible barrier materializes out of nowhere, completely cutting the town off from the rest of the world. Within minutes, the death toll begins to rise. A plane smashes into the barrier followed by a number of cars. As scientists and government and military officials scramble to find a way to break through the barrier, those inside the dome have to quickly adjust to their new reality. And with Stephen King manning the controls, it's just a matter of time before that reality turns sinister.
Within days, Chester's Mill turns into a depressing cauldron of murder, corruption, conspiracy, and increasing fear. The town's police fall under the control of a vicious town selectman with dictatorial ambitions. Resources are seized. Vocal dissenters are jailed--or worse. Soon the air quality inside the dome begins to change. Illnesses increase. Children begin to have seizures and frightening visions. Fear leads to anger, and people start to do things they wouldn't have dreamed of just days earlier. As tension mounts, the stage is set for a final cataclysmic showdown between those who will stop at nothing to enforce their agenda for the town and those who believe the town's increasingly dangerous leaders must be stopped at any cost.
On some levels, Under the Dome is almost allegorical. The town's blossoming dictatorship is reminiscent of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, with a charismatic leader ruling by force, police who operate outside the law, and "police solidarity" armbands for citizens. The worsening environment inside the dome could be a picture of climate change. The fact that the villains are all right-wing fundamentalist Christians (extremely hypocritical Christians at that) is probably a statement of some sort, and there are a few references to Falujah that some might see as antimilitary. In any case, whether or not the author intended to send a message through the story, the book absolutely illustrates the tendency of power to corrupt and the inherent wickedness of the human heart.
Under the Dome is not an easy book to read, and not only because of its size. Readers familiar with King's work will be unsurprised to find foul language and sexual content, some of it disturbing (most notably a gang rape scene and hints of necrophilia). There's plenty of violence, quite a bit of drug use, and lots of examples (very nearly too many, in fact) of people treating each other in all kinds of horrible ways. Though the dome is the reason the townspeople are in their predicament, the real conflict in the book is not people vs. the dome but people vs. each other. This book could just as easily have been titled The Worst-Case Scenario because on page after page, just when it seems the forces of good might be about to catch a break, King pulls the rug out from under them yet again. There's very little in the way of a redemptive message.
Yet all this is offset by King's trademark brilliance in character development and plot pacing, and much of the prose is beautifully crafted. King utilizes an antiquated but effective technique in his narration, slipping into present tense and addressing the reader directly at times to draw attention to a particular item of interest in a scene or to explicitly foreshadow some coming tragedy. Careful readers will find a few references to other Stephen King books peppered throughout.
When he wants to, Stephen King is capable of writing stunningly beautiful stories championing the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity (Duma Key is an example). Under the Dome is not such a book. This is a story about human ugliness, and it's all the more uncomfortable because it rings true. Even so, the brilliance of King's writing is evident on every one of the 1,074 pages. Fair warning: don't start this book unless you have some time on your hands. Uncomfortable though the book may be, it's compelling and suspenseful, and once you start reading, it quickly becomes very difficult to put down.
The only thing that I want to add is the fact that the author has an underlying message of atheism. Faith is deemed to be oppressive even to the good characters (Pastor Libby, for instance). Because of this, law of the jungle prevails when there is chaos.