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Book Review: Under the Dome

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | DECEMBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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Would Stephen King make it into the Writers’ Workshop?

The literary elite often put off the author’s work as simple reading that requires very little analysis or thought. Ask a UI English professor if he or she reads King’s work, and the answer will likely be no.

This could be because King has written so many novels there are bound to be a few throwaways in the collection (such as the mediocre Tommyknockers). For the most part, however, he has written some great books (The Shining, The Green Mile, and the Dark Tower series).

Under the Dome is King’s latest achievement, a 1,072-page novel he’s been trying to write since 1976. While the Bible-length book may not be King’s greatest piece of work, it is one of the best he has put out in years and provides more political and social commentary than in the past, almost as if the author is trying to stand up to the critics.

The story centers on the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine. The inhabitants are thrust into confusion after a mysterious bubble appears around the town’s borders. People inside the dome are concerned with only two things — how the invisible barrier got there and how they are going to get out. Theories involving terrorism, government conspiracy, and even aliens are thrown around.

Chester’s Mill second selectman and used-car dealer Big Jim Rennie plays the part of the power-mongering politician who wants nothing more than control the townspeople through their fear.

Rennie soon takes charge with the help of corrupt police, who participate in a series of brutal murders and rape. The violence is at times over-the-top (even for King), but it does illustrate the evilness of the villains.

It would be easy to draw comparisons between the Bush and Cheney administration to the antagonists in the novel, but the book’s wider theme centers on corrupt politicians and a willingness to do anything for power and wealth.

King even manages to fit in some aspects of the small-town meth problem and fanatical religious groups in the United States, which takes the story in an interesting direction and sets up the end of Under the Dome.

There is, of course, a group of local heroes, led by Iraq veteran Dale Barbara. He is just one of the many townspeople who appear in the story, almost to a fault. At times it can be hard to keep track of all the revolving characters.

King tries to keep things interesting throughout the course of Under the Dome by inserting plenty of pop-culture references and cliffhangers, but even this might not be enough to hold casual readers’ attentions. (It feels like the author could have wrapped things up by page 800 instead of 1,000)

Overall, Under the Dome provides some insightful character analysis, especially in his villains, who often have more punch and personality than the heroes — although he could have described them in fewer words. Throughout the book, King proves that he has a strong handle on the English language, even if it is straightforward, proving that he is not just another run-of-mill writer.

Maybe he would get into the Writers’ Workshop after all.


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