Chester’s Mill is a small secluded town in Maine, bordered by countryside. One ordinary day, a mysterious invisible barrier appears right on the border. Anything in its path gets sheared in half, included an unfortunate woodchuck. Dale Barbara (Barbie to his friends), is hitchhiking out of town after an altercation with the son of the town Selectman. He figures it’s time to go, before anything happens to him. He almost makes it out, except for the bizarre forcefield that materialises right in front of him. And it’s no good turning around and walking out of town in the opposite direction, because this isn’t just a wall. It encircles the entire town, and not just at ground level, as the pilot of a plane quickly discovers – when he crashes into something that isn’t there.
So the citizens of Chester’s Mill are trapped, sealed off completely from the rest of the world, like fish in a bowl. Slowly, everyone begins to adjust to their new circumstances. No one is in any immediate danger just yet. Barbie’s plan is to find out what’s generating the Dome, working on the assumption that it’s being done from within. But town Selectman “Big Jim” Rennie has other plans. This is his one chance to shine in life, as a dictator. When he gets a taste of power, the last thing he wants is for the Dome to come down. Those are just two of the many plot threads in the story. The novel is populated by large cast of characters, each with different agendas.
Under the Dome is huge, almost 900 pages in trade paperback format, no doubt well over a thousand in regular – like It and The Stand. There’s nothing worse than starting a mammoth volume only to get two hundred pages in and realise it’s a mediocre story. Well, I’m pleased to report that this one held my attention admirably. It does feel overlong though, and King’s tendency to delve into lots of unnecessary back-story is in full swing – as usual. Pacing suffers, which is my one ongoing gripe about King’s work.
Some of the characters felt a little caricatured. It’s hard to believe that society would fall apart so quickly in a situation like this, and it’s really down to the proliferation of “evil” characters who are set up to take centre-stage. A highly unrealistic starting point as a mirror for real life. Even so, I enjoyed the drama a lot. As an ecological message (i.e. we’re all living “under the dome”), the story serves as a warning to take care of the environment, but the drama is a little too contrived for this to really hit home in a meaningful way.
But I can’t deny that I really enjoyed this, and I feel it’s one of the more memorable King novels that I’ve read. I especially liked the direction of the story towards the close and the explanation of the Dome’s presence. Very much looking forward to the television series, which is just starting as I write.
(Afterword: The TV series is dreadful, full of ridiculous mystical tripe that isn’t in the book. Don’t let it put you off King’s original, which tells a different, and vastly better, story.)