Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Under the Dome
This is the second of the books I received as gifts during the holidays, and, boy, it is a whopper! It weighs in at almost 1100 pages. I hate to say it, but this book suffers from what I call "The Stand syndrome," meaning it could use some more rigorous editing.
The story opens with a mysterious series of events--a small plane crashes during a routine training flight, a truck explodes in the middle of the road into town, a woodchuck is sliced neatly in two. It soon becomes apparent that a mysterious invisible barrier has appeared around Chester's Mill, a small town in Maine. The barrier is impervious to any attempt to disrupt it, though is permeable to sound and air.
[In a funny coincidence, this is similar to the premise of The Simpsons movie (though I haven't seen it myself). When there was talk that King's idea may have been influenced by this, he went through the trouble of releasing a manuscript on his website from the 1970's entitled 'The Cannibals' whose plot eventually formed the basis for Under the Dome.]
Things go bad for the people in Chester's Mill when Big Jim Rennie, owner of the local used car superstore, makes a play to become leader of the town for the remainder of the crisis. He does this in dictator-esque fashion by gathering his own force of thugs around town to jam through his own "emergency measures" which serve only to consolidate his personal power. In fact, one pivotal scene where Rennie instigates a riot at the local supermarket is directly comparable to the Reichstag fire of 1933 that led to the Enabling Act and Hitler's subsequent assumption of total power in Germany.
Opposing Rennie is a small group of townspeople, led by Dale "Barbie" Barbara, an ex-army officer drifter who happens to get trapped when the Dome appears. This group, while attempting to resist Rennie and his thugs, seeks to discover the source of the Dome. In the end, this small band is able to free Chester's Mill, though not before a massive firestorm is unleashed which essentially destroys the town and most of its inhabitants.
Under the Dome has an interesting premise, though I think that, in the end, King didn't quite make the plot convincing enough. First, the notion that a town of several thousand people would fall so completely under Rennie's rule in such a short time stretches believability (the entire novel takes place in just over a week). I realize the appearance of the Dome is an extraordinary circumstance, but most of the people I know wouldn't fold up shop and stop caring about themselves or others in a few days! Second, the conclusion of the novel is just sort of meh. I was left with the same feeling I had after finishing The Stand: after building up a rich tapestry of characters and setting, the climax of the plot (i.e. how the Dome is lifted) was sort of a let down. Yes, it involves aliens and, yes is sort of cheesy (two criticisms from some of the more highbrow reviewers), but King has pulled this sort of thing off well before (see e.g. Insomnia).