Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Self-Serving Piety Is the Real Villain

Under the Dome

by Stephen King

Published by Scribner

3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

This is my first full-fledged Stephen King novel, so I'm not sure how it measures up against other King classics like The Stand, It, Salem's Lot, or Carrie. Sure, I've read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, but only because it was described as a young adult novel (King-lite, if you will). I have spent most of my life actively avoiding Stephen King and here's my story as to why Mr. King and I parted ways before I even read anything by him.

When I was but a wee little girl, full of innocence and a precocious love of reading, my mom was also a voracious reader. As I was consuming Little House on the Prairie books (my earliest encounter with book rape--thanks, grandma) and Nancy Drew, I began noticing that mom was always reading these big ass books with KING running down the spine. When she wasn't reading these books, they were always placed on top of the refrigerator which was well out of my grasp. Eager for us to share this love of reading (Mom curiously had no interest in the plight of the Ingalls family), I begged and pleaded to be allowed to read the King books. "Gee, wouldn't it be fun if Mom and I read the same books? Then we could talk about them!" I thought. Days, weeks, months went by and, eventually, my constant wheedling became too much. She relented, but the deal was that she would pick the scene I was allowed to read. She chose a particularly horrific and descriptive scene from The Stand. I read with increasing horror--Nancy Drew never encountered messed up shit like this! When I finished that scene, I handed the book over and never asked to read King again. And I stepped lightly around Mom from that day forward. I suddenly understood that, if that woman snapped, it would be ugly--and she would know what to do with the bodies.

Therefore, unlike most teenagers, I skipped over the desire to consume everything King between junior high and high school. And this brings us to present day and my first King novel. At 1,072 pages, this is definitely a doorstop of a book. However, it reads fairly quickly. My main complaint is that many of the characters are one dimensional stereotypes. There are no shades of gray in the small town of Chester's Mill. At first, this bothered me; however, I think maybe individual characters had to be sacrificed in order to portray the real character--small town America and how it reacts to cataclysmic events. If King shorthands individual characterizations, he nails the panic and herd-like mentality that takes over when uncertainty is the order of the day.

The premise of the novel, as blatantly presented by the title, is that Chester's Mill one day finds itself cutoff from the outside world by a mysterious dome that perfectly conforms itself to the borders of Chester's Mill. In the days ahead, the people wait and worry as the United States government desperately tries to free them. As hope begins to dwindle, reason is in short supply as people trade in their humanity for mass hysteria and panic.

The dome is not, however, the ultimate villain in this tale. The real villain is Big Jim Rennie, the town selectman who has been waiting for just such a "clustermug" so that he can claim control of the town. Big Jim is the most vile type of Christian, one who believes that being able to quote scripture and abstain from saying cuss words is all it takes to be amongst God's chosen. Big Jim does everything in the belief that God is on his side and damn anyone who tries to get in his way, for not only are they his enemies, but enemies of Christianity itself. It is possible to have religion without true faith, and Big Jim is proof of that. He has customized his religion to serve his needs; indeed, his belief in God is little more than a manifestation of his own belief in himself as superior, as "chosen," to be above all others.

It appears that my review may be destined to be as long as the book, so I'll cut it short. Weaknesses: there are a few clunker sentences that pulled me out of the story, there is an abundance of detail that I could have lived without, and I was disappointed in the reason for the dome because it seemed so obvious. Strengths: King deftly keeps his cast of characters straight and realistically interacting with one another, he captures the terror and bovine-like stupidity that takes over when day-to-day life is disrupted and threatened, there are some colorful cuss words that I hope to employ in the near future, and there's a catastrophic scene toward the end that is one of the most terrifying and well-written that I've ever read. 


  1. Wow. And here I'd always blamed my mother for taking me to see Jurassic Park when I was four and the ensuing horrors of years of nightmares about raptors. Although, I've got to give her props for her creative way of ending pestering...

    The only King I've read was The Shining, and I certainly enjoyed it, but you really do have to sit down and think of nice things for a while afterwards.

    I just saw your review of People of the Book on GR, and I followed the blog link here. I've got to say, I really like the personal anecdote approach to your reviews, especially in relating to PotB and the love of physical copies of books. I'm looking forward to checking out more of your reviews. :)

  2. Jurassic Park could certainly warp a young mind for life! Although I was always more frightened of the dinosaurs that spit poison at poor, foolish Nedry.

    Thank you for the compliment! Books that I can tie to my own life or values are the ones that really stay with me, so I'm glad some of that comes across in my reviews.