While the classics The Shining and Salem’s Lot are two of my favorites, much of Stephen King’s more recent output has left me a little underwhelmed. King’s latest release, Under the Dome, doesn’t really do much to reverse this trend for me.
The novel tells the story of a small town that becomes quite suddenly encased beneath a giant invisible dome. Of course, it’s a mystery as to exactly what the dome is and how it got there. The sudden appearance (installation? dropping?) of the dome is quite gruesome, as many animals, vehicles, and even people find their collective parts on different sides of the walls.
The tension of the story builds as the inhabitants of the town realize that they’re on their own. While government agents are working on breaking through the dome, they have no control over what’s going on inside. This leaves room for someone to step up to a leadership role, and in this case, naturally the corrupt and power hungry are perfectly happy to assume the position. Big Jim Rennie, the town’s Second Selectman, is a used car salesman/politician with a very strong agenda: have every one do every thing his way.
Big Jim thinks himself righteous, and considers all of his actions to be God’s work. The problem with his philosophy is that his actions include running the largest meth lab on the East Coast, among other crimes. Rennie is arrogant, holier-than-thou, and delusional, and I’m not sure I have ever despised a character in a book more than Big Jim Rennie. If that was King’s goal, then I’ll have to toast his success here.
The novel is very long (1000+ pages), and much of it is spent describing many, many citizens of the town. It’s great to feel like a town in a book is established and has a history, where the various people have lives that matter, but King’s ongoing descriptions and histories become excessive. It gets to the point where reading more and more about how someone used to drive a tractor or has a pointy head feels like a chore. There were times where I felt I had read chapters and chapters of words without the story moving forward. The book isn’t altogether unenjoyable, but is far too long for the story being told. I’ll definitely be looking for something that can manage a good story in a shorter length for my next read.