Monday, December 21, 2009

Under the Dome

Steven King has always been something of an uneven author for me. I've read the majority of his books and I've liked the majority of what I've read, but the ones I didn't like, I usually didn't like at all. The latter seemed to be more prevalent than the former in King's more recent novels. I thought Cell was particularly bad and in fact didn't finish it. But then came Duma Key which I thought a great book and now there is Under the Dome. I didn't like Dome as much as I liked Duma, but I did like it a lot.
The basic concept is that a force field appears without warning or explanation around the small town of Chester's Mill in rural in Maine. Very little can get in or out. A little air and a little water pass through and that's about it. No solid objects at all. And the air and water won't be sufficient to keep everyone alive if the dome stays in place for too long and it shows no signs of going away, so things look grim.
The "hero" of the book is ex-soldier Dale Barbara, now working as a fry cook at the town's main restaurant. As the books opens, Barbara is on his way out of town after a fight with the son of the local 'big wig', town selectman Jim Rennie. Rennie, like many of King's antagonists, is a power hungry big fish in a small pond who takes advantage of the strange events to try and carve out a bigger chunk of power for himself. Barbara is unfortunate enough to just miss leaving town before the barrier slams shut, killing a lot of animals and people in colorful detail. The big conflict in the book is between Rennie's followers and the more free thinking citizens of Chester's Mill who line up with Barbara. Most of the good guys are misfits, another King staple. Oh and big Jim is of course, deeply religious. Fundamentalists, from Carrie's mom on up, are always dangerous in the land of King.
This is a pedal to the metal thriller which, amazingly, seldom lets up on the narrative force for all of its nearly eleven hundred pages. Its a long long thrill ride and I spent most of Friday evening and early Saturday finishing it up because it was just that compelling. It has all of King's strong points, Deep characterization. memorable characters. Elements that may or may not be supernatural. Psychological suspense. And that amazing story telling voice that King wields like a surgeon, drawing you in and then letting you have it between the eyes when he knows you are the most enthralled.
Of course on the flip side it has all of King's faults. A plot that rambles for all its force and too many characters to keep up with. The ending, which reveals the secret of the dome, is weak and like many of King's endings, feels rushed. But ultimately none of that matters. With King it's the journey more than the destination. You'll have a fine time on the ride. I know I did.

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