Under the Dome (2009) – Stephen King

Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Date published: 2009
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Looking back at this 877 page novel I was pretty sure I wasn’t even going to attempt it this year but I am so glad I did. I did not want to put it down. I was immediately caught up in the small town politics of Chester’s Mill, and the dramas that ensued once the so-called mysterious ‘dome’ came down over it. In fact I seem to be suffering from what a lot of readers have come to know as ‘the book hangover’.

It is fascinating how King manages to document the perils of what happens when a small town is forced to become even smaller. His novel reads like a movie as he moves brilliantly from one scene to the next with ease, and I was actually devastated and relieved to finally finish this mammoth novel all at the same time. I know that in some way that makes a little bit of sense.

A brief overview of the plot is as follows: a mysterious and invisible dome appears overnight and settles over a small town in Maine. After a few accidental deaths, including a plane crash, the town (and subsequently the rest of the country) goes into survival mode. People both inside and outside the Dome are unable to identify this invisible force and conspiracy theories abound, whilst the town sets itself up to try and survive this event.

Our protagonist is Dale Barbara (known affectionately as Barbie), an ex-military man in his mid-thirties who now works as a short order cook at the local restaurant The Sweetbriar Rose. The military outside the Dome get involved and promote Barbie as the leader of Chester’s Mill until the matter of the Dome can be decided. However not everyone is satisfied with this promotion. Barbie has quite a bit of competition in the form of used car salesman Jim Rennie. Now if there is to be a bad guy in this scenario one would assume it would be the damn invisible dome covering the town, or whatever/whoever is responsible for said dome, but not in this case. In Chester’s Mill Jim Rennie is definitely the bad guy, and unfortunately Rennie is extremely talented at getting people to believe he is the exact opposite. With his pious and self-righteous attitude, Rennie becomes the perfect villain along with his murderous and slightly insane son Junior Rennie. Together, along with members of the police force and those that are in Rennie’s pocket they form a group of law enforcers hell-bent on anarchy and chaos. Along with inciting riots causing the townspeople to fight amongst themselves and essentially against one another, Rennie’s brigade of officers get involved in serious crimes such as assault, rape and murder, and everything is conveniently covered up.

In the meantime Barbie becomes involved with the owner of the local newspaper, Julia Shumway, whose investigations into the not so clean life of Jim Rennie are becoming public. The two, along with a select few members of the community form a much smaller group of vigilantes determined to remove Rennie from his place of authority, and to find the source of the Dome.

Quite a number of the characters in Chester’s Mill are very religious. I am not one of those readers that simply accepts religion as a pure given. Therefore I wonder why this particular novel contains SO MANY fanatics. For example Jim Rennie himself is extremely vocal about his beliefs and often makes the townspeople kneel down and pray with him. One of the local priests participates in frequent flagellation, another female pastor often questions her own beliefs in a higher being, and the town is famous for its local radio station that ONLY emits gospel 24 hours a day. I am in no way criticizing this theme however I am questioning King’s use of radicalism in the novel. My very vague theory is that these overly religious characters are Chester’s Mill’s answer to the survivalists we often encounter in the media whose sole mission is to prepare for the apocalypse. What happens in the Dome is quite possibly a mini ‘end of the world’.

Another prominent theme and perhaps the most important is the human race’s environmental impact. Without going into detail or giving anything away it is worth noting that King does seem to use the Dome as a kind of metaphor for a lot of issues plaguing humanity. It’s interesting how quickly people begin to adapt to being entrapped, and constantly look to those in authority to find blame for what has happened.

I think most of all it is important to mention that his characters are what drive this novel to its brilliant (and heart-breaking conclusion). Within the Dome, and besides all the politics and analysts that make up the outside world, it is the people inside who are the hearts of this story. King is passionate about each and every living and breathing being within that Dome. Even the dogs and the town drunk and the local Meth-head are key players in this little town. No one is simply a wallflower and I think that is the essence of Under the Dome (2009). Anyone and everyone can be a hero or a villain given the right circumstances.

Overall Under the Dome is an epic that I will gladly put on equal ground with The Stand (1990). His intricate grasp of human behavior and the need to survive are gritty and honest. As usual I am in awe of Stephen King’s ability to create a story that keeps me completely entranced the ENTIRE time. There was not one page that didn’t make me want to keep reading and reading and reading. Yes it is that good, and Stephen King is that good!

More Stephen King:

Different Seasons (1982) – Stephen King

Rose Madder (1995) – Stephen King

IT – Stephen King (1986)

The Shining (1980)

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