Stephen King – Under the Dome

Yeah, I know, it came out a year ago, but I read King’s books when they come out in paperback. This one concerns a small Maine town that suddenly, inexplicably finds itself imprisoned by an invisible barrier (which actually isn’t dome-shaped). The narrative concerns what this pressure cooker situation does to the townspeople.

Around the mid-nineties, King’s stories started feeling like he was making them up as he went. This resulted in some nicely unpredictable storytelling (Insomnia), but also, at times, shapeless messes devoid of satisfactory resolution (Lisey’s Story). It’s refreshing to find him here, once again interested in the benefits of solid plotting.

King novels traditionally start slow, because he likes to take some time to craft his characters, allowing the reader become invested in them. This pays dividends later, when he puts said characters through various trials. Under the Dome starts slow too, but in this case, it only serves to showcase lazy characterization that suffers from a painful lack of nuance. Maybe King felt daunted by having to establish such a huge cast, but the characters are so instantly scannable as good or evil, they might as well be wearing white hats and black hats. King gives his main protagonist a dirty secret, and his bad guy some tender moments with his son, but it’s too little, too late. As a result, the first quarter of the book is dispiritingly predictable.

Luckily, from that point, it’s an increasingly riveting page-turner with some satisfyingly dark grace notes (the ever-more-toxic air, the suicidal animals). Most of the characters might only have two dimensions, but King’s writing feels energized. He makes some bracingly ruthless story choices, and by the end, the predictability has vanished and you truly don’t know how things are going to turn out.

(Quibble: Under the Dome features King’s umpteenth use of the irksomely unevocative phrase “blameless blue sky” – previous sightings include The Stand, The Waste Lands, and Duma Key.)

grade: B+

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2 Responses to Stephen King – Under the Dome

  1. Greg M. says:

    Claude –

    This was the first Stephen King book I had read in a while. I agree with most of what you have said about the book. His characterizations were very strong and in some cases very black and white. The evil characters were truly evil and even when he tried to soften them, there was no redemption that could save their souls. No gray area. My big complaint about under the dome was when you find out the origin of the dome. Honestly, I feel his antagonist is similar to those in IT. I loved IT, I red the book in 8 hours striaght, but the last 20 pages let me down. I felt the same when we find out the cause of the Dome. It’s just a bit too metaphysical of an answer. With that said, I did enjoy the book. I would love to see him go back into supernatural horror, but I honestly don’t believe he has it in him anymore.

    • clauditorium says:

      Hey Greg, thanks for visiting my journal!

      I personally had no problem with the origin of the dome. I didn’t feel it was metaphysical – it’s aliens. I liked that they weren’t typical aliens, and that there was some mystery to them.

      As for him writing supernatural horror, I said it before, and I’ll say it again: read Cell. It’s not brilliant, but it’s definitely horror. I will warn you that, once again, he wrote an ending not everybody liked, and it’s another case where he skimped on character depth. But it’s definitely worth reading.

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