To be honest, it took me like 3 weeks to get through the first 300 pages of the 1000+ page novel, Under the Dome. But after that, I finished up the next 700 in a mere 2-3 days. I was compelled to read this mammoth of a book after recently re-reading The Stand. (Review of that to follow.) I was so thoroughly impressed with The Stand that I thought perhaps Under the Dome might impress me equally. (If you’re wondering, it doesn’t quite measure up.)
What took me so long to get through the first fourth of Under the Dome is paradoxically why it took me no time at all to get through the entirety of The Stand in almost no time at all: the constant juggling of the huge cast of characters. As The Stand begins, we are introduced to the main characters one by one; they don’t yet know one another and so their journeys and experiences are easily distinguishable from one another. Under the Dome takes place in the small New England town of Chester’s Mill, and as such, the characters are already interacting with one another and have established relationships we are not already privy to. So as you read, it is easy to get everyone confused; you have to kind of pause and think about who is who as the scenes shift and alliances form. But after the initial 300 pages, I started to know the characters myself and the story became more interesting.
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day, a small town is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and rain down flaming wreckage. A gardener’s hand is severed as the dome descends. Cars explode on impact. Families are separated and panic mounts. No one can fathom what the barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away. Now a few intrepid citizens, led by an Iraq vet turned short-order cook, face down a ruthless politician dead set on seizing the reins of power under the dome. But their main adversary is the dome itself. Because time isn’t just running short. It’s running out.
The greatest fault I can find in this novel, however, is actually in the characterization. It’s rather black & white with little shades of gray. Either a character is “good” or “bad.” Shades of gray are what make people interesting, if you ask me. For example, while the big villain of the story, Big Jim Rennie, often rationalizes his behavior or tries to justify his actions to even himself, he still recognizes an inherent quality within himself: he just wants what he wants, that he is an unapologetic and selfish power monger. Simple as that. Without any redeeming quality he–and most of the other characters–has very little dimension and thus, he doesn’t seem all that believable.
On the other hand, if the novel is viewed as largely allegorical–which it most certainly can be–the black & white tendencies of the characters become understandable. After all, allegory is a way of illustrating a message–whether it be political, religious, environmental, or otherwise–about the state of circumstance and choice, about human nature. Stephen King himself stated that he wrote Under the Dome with his view of the failures of Bush-Cheney administration in mind, as well the state of the environment. (If there is one thing the Dome in the novel demonstrates, is how quickly the air becomes polluted and contaminated when it is enclosed, much like the atmosphere encloses the Earth.)
Much like The Stand, the climax of Under the Dome fails to be as compelling as the events that precede it. But that’s okay. The joy of reading both books lies in the journey of the characters, in their struggles and their triumphs.
If you are wondering about the “secret” of the Dome, I won’t spoil it for you here. Is it a fascinating reveal? That’s up for the reader to decide. This reader was sort of apathetic to it because that’s not what the story is really about. The Dome is merely a device to get the characters in this situation. A MacGuffin of a larger sort. Is it worth the read? Sure. I really enjoyed it once I was able to get acquainted well enough with the characters. But if you are a slow reader, this one may not be for you.