Under the Dome

Monday, July 8, 2013

Under the Dome
by Stephen King

SPOILERS AHEAD – You’ve been warned!

What a ride! This 1,000 page tome grips you from the first chapter until the final pages. The small town of Chester’s Mill in Maine is thrown into turmoil when an invisible dome descends over it, trapping the citizens inside. King gives us a massive cast of characters (seriously, look at the photo of just one page of my notes below), that is at first overwhelming. Quickly readers can catch on to who the big players are and soon become deeply invested in their lives.

There is the town’s “hero” Big Jim Rennie who reveals himself as the sadistic brains behind all the town’s dark operations. There’s Barbie, an ex-military guy trying to leave town when the Dome appears. Julia runs the local newspaper and Rusty and his wife Linda work at the hospital and police station respectively. Junior is Big Jim’s twisted son and Phil “Chef” cooks meth on the out skirts of town. Rose runs the diner, her sister Andrea is addicted to pain killers and Col. Cox is the liaison on the other side of the Dome. Now add in about 30 more characters and you’ve got the bulk of the cast.

“Small towns harbor small imaginations. Grace Metalious and Sherwood Anderson were right about that.”

For me the power of the story was in watching the thin veil of societal niceties crumble as the danger increased. Big Jim worked hard to heighten fear and remove any sense of safety that the town might feel. He’s a master manipulator. Once that was complete he positioned himself as the savior and protector of Chester’s Mill and all of the town’s “sheep” looked to him to lead them through this crisis. He beefed up the police force with brutal idiots and got rid of anyone willing to challenge his authority.

“She realized – what scared her the most – was how fast this was happening.”

Like I’ve said before, the best science-fiction gives us an extreme situation that highlights peoples' true personalities and tendencies. The catalyst is usually secondary; it’s really a psychological study of how people react in times of stress. Whatever their natural inclination is, be it cruelty or kindness, it is enhanced by the disaster.  

I think it's very important to remember that Junior committed his first murder before he knew anything about the Dome. Both he and his father are undeniably evil, just in different ways. Big Jim Remy commits murder when he feels threatened and he wants to secure his power. Junior kills because it’s a compulsion caused by his tumor.

Barbie's military background becomes essential and the town begins to panic. The fact that he'd seen riots during his time at war helped him know how to handle the crowd. You can’t reason with a mob, but his calm reaction when others panicked helped save lives.

“She watched her town lose its mind, and afterward she would never be the same person.”

One aspect I loved was the comparison between Andrea’s struggle with addiction to pain medication and the town as a whole “body.” Andi realizes that her body has been telling her it is in pain so that she will continue taking the medicine. Her addiction is fueled by her psychological need. She compares herself with the town as a whole. Big Jim has made himself the “brain” of the body and is trying to convince the rest of the body that it is in danger.

The explanation of the Dome was my least favorite part of the book. I think it was just an unnecessary complication in the book. I wish he’d just said it was some government weapon testing gone wrong or something. I think the best aspect of the book is the interaction between the people and adding in an extraterrestrial element at the last minute was distracting and didn’t make a lot of sense.

King has a definite style and there were some parts that reminded me so much of The Stand. It had that same sense of impending doom, building towards and inevitable conflict without an easy resolution. Again he gave us tons of characters and had no qualms about killing them off. He featured dogs in key roles and gave us a reluctant hero and an anti-hero who is charming on the surface. The similarities between the two books were striking.

A few other random thoughts:

- Stephen King has an incredible way of making you care for even the most pathetic of characters. Everything that happened to Sammy’s character was just horrible.

- King is ruthless when it comes to killing off main characters. Some of my favorites, like Andrea and Brenda Perkins (and Audrey the dog) didn’t make it.

- The librarian’s name is Melissa and she goes by Lissa, which is what I’ve gone by my whole life. I’ve never heard of anyone else using that nickname!

- Ollie, oh my gosh that poor cow-kid! His whole story just broke my heart.

- I loved how Big Jim’s life ended. Up until the last moment he made selfish decisions and because of that he was alone and haunted by all of his crimes.

BOTTOM LINE: Any book that can keep you enthralled for 1,000 pages is a success in my mind. Despite a somewhat weak ending, the book was a gripping look at the way people react in a crisis. The mob mentality and the blind trust that people can exhibit when terrified is both real and disturbing. Another great read from the King.

“Living under the Dome intensified everything. Already it seemed to Linda that they had been under it not for days but years. The outside world was fading like a dream when you woke up.”  

“… in my experience, town politicians know a little, the town cops know a lot, and the local newspaper editor knows everything.”

“What she understood was that grief, no matter how genuine, did not seem to impede a politician’s flow of bullshit.”

Photo of my notes and a map of the town from the book.


Nadia said...

Yay! Glad you enjoyed the book! I'm with you on the aliens. Seriously! What was King thinking? I would have preferred government testing gone wrong, too! Oh well, at the end of the day I devoured that chunkster happily and enjoyed it. I totally agree with you that its another great read by King ;)

Anonymous said...

fun fun fun review! Your comment abt Junior committing his crime before the Dome and how/why he acted 'evil' connects nicely to my current read. So I just went up to see if you have ever reviewed Alias Grace and I really think you must drop everything and read it with me. (pretty please?!) I'm *really* enjoying it. Atwood is a master.

Anonymous said...

Like!! Didn't realize you were a "Lissa." Really like that name. Do you also wear an ankh necklace a la LOST?! Haha.

Also, whoa, nice call on the whole town as body comparison to Andrea. Fascinating! I hadn't thought of that.

p.s. I was sooo sad about Audrey ... did not need that kick in the pants after so much carnage. :(

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nadia - It was just the strangest deviation from the rest of the story. He wrote this great sociology experiment and then through in this weird alien twist.

bkclubcare - **Arm being twisted** Ok I just found it on my library's ebook site and downloaded it to my kindle. I should be able to start it at the end of the week. I do love Atwood!

wordhits - Ha, no ankh necklace. When I was born my parents told my big sister I was Melissa and she thought they were saying "My Lissa" (like my doll or my toy). So she called me Lissa and I've gone by that with my friends and family ever since!

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Amazing review! I completely agree about the ending; it felt like an easy way to explain everything with "magic". Fortunately the book itself was amazing and gave a lot to think about.
I keep wondering how evil Junior would have really been if not for the tumor...

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

Oh man. I kind of forgot about Sammy. I had such a tough time reading about her and Little Walter. With the five books of King's that I've read in the past year, I never stop being amazed at the worlds and conflicts he is able to create within his books. It's like he just loves playing puppetmaster but at the same time the characters take on these lives of their own and it's so incredible to watch.

This one really reminded me of The Stand as well. And like you said I thought that the reasoning for the dome was lame. I'm just glad it wasn't a bigger part of the actual story.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kay - I wondered about Junior as well. I know the tumor was a big part of it, but he was also a product of Big Jim's household and they must mess you up a bit.

Trish - He is the master at creating situations where the characters are pushed to their absolute limits, both good and bad.

Unknown said...

Great assessment - I definitely see the allegory of Andrea Grinnell and the town as a whole now. Thanks for the review!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristin - I really liked that Andrea's addiction paralleled the city as a whole. So interesting!