Stephen King's latest novel is titled Under the Dome, and at 1074 pages in length, epic it is. This book is also King at his best. He creates a setting of good versus evil, and then introduces a large cast of characters to bring the story to life. It is perfectly paced and the pages fly by. It is not a good read -- it is a great read.
The locale of the story is Chester's Mill, Maine. It is there on a sunny afternoon in October that the dome comes down. The dome is a huge, clear something of glass-like substance that surrounds and covers the town. When it comes down into place, it cuts through anything in its path. People, animals, machines, whatever are separated from one side and the other by this invisible thing.
It takes a while for the impact of what has happened to dawn on the people trapped inside. Since the dome covers such a wide area of miles both across and upward there is no feeling of claustrophobia. But as time passes there is a sense of isolation and helplessness that permeates the mindset of the townspeople.
The people under the dome are quickly divided into two camps. There is the Jim Rennie camp. He is the town selectman who quickly sees a way to take over the situation and use it for his own benefit. He has the police chief in his pocket so he can wheel and deal with impunity.
Then there is the Dale Barbara camp. "Barbie" as he is called is a former military man who was on his way out of town when the dome came down. He has strong connections on the outside and they are giving him instructions on how to handle the situation within the dome. One problem though is there is bad blood between him and Rennie and any power he tries to gain is going to be met with opposition.
King takes this unique situation and uses it to show the many faces of good and evil that arise in a crisis. To add to the suspense, there is a deranged killer living in the town and he begins a series of murders that impact the balance within the dome.
King being King holds no specific life sacred. If you become attached to a character, well, there is no guarantee he or she will stick around till the end of the story. Death occurs quickly and often under the dome. The good and the bad are struck down with equal force and randomness.
King tells his story with insight and humor and this balances the hurt and the horror that is constantly present. The characters are fully drawn and believable and the situations are all plausible, even those that border on the supernatural. If you want a reading experience that keeps your attention on each and every page then Under the Dome is just what the doctor ordered.
As I read it I kept thinking about the major movie or mini-series that could be made from this tome. Actors should start clamoring to be cast as Barbie, Rennie or any other members of the large supporting cast. It is a supernatural story told in a humanistic way. It is also a cautionary tale in the same way as the biblical parables.
It takes a while to read but Under the Dome is worth every minute spent on it. If you are a Stephen King fan then this is an early Christmas present you owe yourself. He is as good as he as ever been and in many ways even better than ever.
Under the Dome is published by Scribner. It contains 1074 pages and sells for $35.00.