As with the majority of Novembers in my adult memory, there’s a new Stephen King novel on shelves. Less usually, I got it for about 75% sale at Amazon, because apparently they and like Wal-Mart are in a weird book price war right now for best-sellers? At that price, I’d have bought it unemployed without blinking. (I guess technically I did, since the pre-order was placed just before my start date, last Monday.) In the subsequent week and change, I have read Under the Dome. Don’t worry, I’m finally reading graphic novels again, the schedule will resume normalcy at this time.
The premise is simple, and I think that simplicity is where the genius of the book lies. Imagine a small town, full of people who are good, bad, and indifferent, corrupt and pure, power-hungry and service-minded. Any small town will do. And then, cut that town off. Completely, and in some cases, literally. Under the Dome is about that: about the people on the outside who want to find a way to help; about the people on the inside who want nothing more than to get out and get on with their lives; about the not entirely stable people they could be trapped with; and about the people who only see an opportunity for greatness. Aside from King’s reliable eye for characters, what struck me most about the book was the breakneck pace. Not even halfway through the book, and it already felt like the inevitable decline and fall of Chester’s Mill, Maine was hurtling toward me faster than I could turn the pages. The last couple of days’ reading was actually stressful in some ways. (Not that I minded.)
In the end, the only complaint I have is about the Dome itself, and I don’t really know of a way around it. People will naturally want to know how the Dome got there and why, and I know the question had to be answered. But I submit that this misses the point of the book, and if there were a reasonable way to pretend that its origin could be ignored, it should have been. The book is about people who are trapped, people who are concealed from the eyes of the world and from its external consequences, and the way they behave in these extreme conditions. And that part was golden, and it filled up probably a thousand pages of excellent literature. So, there’s that going for it! (For the record, I am more or less satisfied with the origin story part; it’s just I know some people will not be. I may not have been, if I had actually cared at all? No way to be sure, I expect.)