Under the Dome

Under the Dome

4.0 3739
by Stephen King

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On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their…  See more details below


On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when -- or if -- it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing -- even murder -- to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

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Editorial Reviews

James Parker
King has always produced at pulp speed. "Nov. 22, 2007 - March 14, 2009" proclaims the final page of Under the Dome: that's 1,100 pages in 480 days. We shouldn't be too squeamish about the odd half-baked simile or lapse into B-movie dialogue, is my point. Writing flat-out keeps him close to his story, close to his source. It seems to magnetize his imagination: by the final third of this novel King is effortlessly drawing in T. S. Eliot and the Book of Revelation, the patient etherized upon a table and the Star Wormwood.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
Under the Dome gravely threatens Stephen King's status as a mere chart-busting pop cultural phenomenon. It has the scope and flavor of literary Americana, even if Mr. King's particular patch of American turf is located smack in the middle of the Twilight Zone. It dispenses with his usual scatology and trippy fantasy to deliver a spectrum of credible people with real family ties, health crises, self-destructive habits and political passions. Even its broad caricatures prompt real emotion, if only via the damage they can inflict on others. Though the book's broad conspiratorial strokes become farfetched, its ordinary souls become ever more able to break hearts. This book has the heft of a brick…Hard as this thing is to hoist, it's even harder to put down.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
King's return to supernatural horror is uncomfortably bulky, formidably complex and irresistibly compelling. When the smalltown of Chester's Mill, Maine, is surrounded by an invisible force field, the people inside must exert themselves to survive. The situation deteriorates rapidly due to the dome's ecological effects and the machinations of Big Jim Rennie, an obscenely sanctimonious local politician and drug lord who likes the idea of having an isolated populace to dominate. Opposing him are footloose Iraq veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara, newspaper editor Julia Shumway, a gaggle of teen skateboarders and others who want to solve the riddle of the dome. King handles the huge cast of characters masterfully but ruthlessly, forcing them to live (or not) with the consequences of hasty decisions. Readers will recognize themes and images from King's earlier fiction, and while this novel doesn't have the moral weight of, say, The Stand, nevertheless, it's a nonstop thrill ride as well as a disturbing, moving meditation on our capacity for good and evil. (Nov.)
Library Journal
The frequent accusation that King writes too long is sometimes deserved. However, when he works in an epic mode, depicting dozens of characters and all their interrelationships, he can produce great work. He did it with The Stand and with It, and he has done it again here. A small Maine town is enclosed one October morning by an impermeable bell jar of unknown origin. Within this pressure cooker, the petty differences and power struggles of village life are magnified and accelerated. Opposing camps develop, one headed by Big Jim Rennie, the Second Selectman, and the other by Dale Barbara, a drifting Iraq vet who was nearly out of town when the Dome fell. The characters are well rounded and interesting while retaining the familiar appeal that has drawn and kept King fans for decades. VERDICT Regular King readers will rejoice at his return to his strengths. Some will balk at the page count, but a fast pace and compelling narrative make the reader's time fly. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Karl G. Siewert, Tulsa City-Cty. Lib., OK
Kirkus Reviews
Maine. Check. Strange doings. Check. Alien/demon presence. Check. Unlikely heroes. Check. An early scene in King's latest (Just After Sunset, 2008, etc.) takes us past Shawshank Prison, if only in the mind of a character-and there are dozens of characters, large and small, whose minds we enter. One of them, a leading citizen in the quiet town of Chester's Mill, is crooked, conniving wheeler-dealer Big Jim Rennie, whose son, a specialist in taking wrong forks in the road, is the local terror but has apparently surrendered his power to awe to larger forces-in this case, the ones who have very gradually sealed off Chester's Mill from the rest of the world. Why? It's the kind of hamlet where a big night of fun involves driving with a six-pack and a shotgun, hardly the sort of place where the overlords seem likely to land. But these overlords, they're a strange bunch: They walk among us, and they might even be us. King runs riot with players, including a newshound who numbers among his ordinary worries "the inexplicable decay of the town's sewer system and waste treatment plant"; a curious chap named Sea Dogs; some weekend warriors; and the lyrically named Romeo Burpee, who "survived a childhood of merciless taunts . . . to become the richest man in town." Evil is omnipresent here, but organized religion is suspect, useful only for those who would bleat, "The Dome is God's will." The woods are full of malevolent possibilities. Civic and military leaders are usually incompetent. And it's the brave loner who has bothered to do a little research who saves everyone's bacon. Or not. It hardly matters that, after 1,000-plus pages, the yarn doesn't quite add up. It's vintage King: wonderfullywritten, good, creepy, old-school fun.
Charles Taylor
Stephen King's Under the Dome is another brick -- more like a wheelbarrow full -- in the construction of the argument that genre writers are doing far more than their high-lit colleagues to realize the novel's potential for examining the institutions and politics of contemporary society. In King's 1,074-page Under the Dome, a transparent dome suddenly descends on a Maine town, trapping the people inside and allowing the local thugs, elected and otherwise, to rule according to nothing more than their lust for power. The military and the media are stationed around the dome's perimeter. And Washington even has someone -- inadvertently -- on the inside: Barbie, the former military man turned drifter, reappointed in the face of the emergency and designated by President Obama as his man in charge.

But it doesn't matter that, in the old words of the New Left, the whole world is watching. Big Jim Rennie (yes, there's really a character named Big Jim), town selectman, power broker, and secret drug lord (he's set up a major meth factory), isn't about to let some socialist Negro tell him how to run his town.

In the book's afterword, King says he first tried to write Under the Dome in 1976 and couldn't. No wonder. He had to wait for American reality to catch up to him. Which is to say that Under the Dome is King's metaphor for the ways in which America sealed itself off from the rest of the world during the Bush administration. And the dome also works as a metaphor for those who, out of their belief that the current president is a usurper out to destroy the very idea of America, would like to continue that kind of internal isolationism.

Just because a metaphor is obvious -- and they don't get much more obvious than King's dome -- doesn't mean it isn't effective. King, who has always taken a naturalistic approach to fantastic subject matter (that's what makes his work so frightening), pushes very close to caricature. Big Jim isn't just Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter as a drug lord and murderer -- he's a born again used-car salesman. That is to say, he's the all-American huckster come back outfitted in the sheep's clothing that some of the worst con men of the last20 years have found suits them best.

How does King get away with it? There are, I think, two answers to that question. One is the sheer delusional extremism of our current era. To listen to the fantasies about death panels for the elderly and FEMA internment camps, about Obama being a socialist foreign national bent on turning America into a police state, is to realize that if Richard Hofstadter were writing today he'd have to call hisessay "The Batshit Style in American Politics." You can't caricature people who have already turned themselves into caricatures.

The second answer has to do with the ways in which all of us are allowed to talk trash about our own. There are few American writers less removed from the people they are writing about than Stephen King. The details of middle-class and working-class life in his books have remained so vivid that you believe King could reel off not only the contents of his characters' kitchen cabinets but also what they paid for all of it at the supermarket. The contempt King feels for his Down East Mussolini Big Jim and the thugs under Big Jim's command isn't the nose-sniffing disdain of the highborn for the lower orders, it's the recognition that comes from having lived among people and seeing them for what they are, the way some of us notice, years later, that the class bully has joined the local police force. (I once watched King walk into a bookstore in Massachusetts and identify a clerk whom he recognized as having worked at a bookstore in Bangor20 years earlier.)

A deep disgust animates Under the Dome -- sadness, too. It reads as if King has stored up every way in which, during the first eight years of the decade, America betrayed its democratic ideal, every display of arrogance, every 3 a.m. panic that the bullies in charge were about to come knocking on the door, and tied it into his narrative. By the unsparing end, King has become something like the horror novel's John Brown, ready to expiate his country's sins in fire and blood.

Under the Dome sustains itself for all of its length. It's not, though, the book I'd choose as the most resonant work of political or social criticism King has written. For me, those remain From a Buick 8 and Cell, both of which address the aftermath of 9/11 in terms that are emotionally direct -- yet not obvious in terms of their narratives. Both books are about the interruption of everyday life by events that don't fit into any comprehensible context. And both ask if, in the wake of such ruptures, it's even possible to reassemble a normal life.

The lauded novels that have attempted to address 9/11, like Joseph O'Neil's Netherland, have avoided addressing the fear and rage that day stirred up, as if the proper function of being literary were to make sure, above all, that things stayed civilized and controlled, and churning, messy, potentially ugly emotions be avoided. Contrast that approach with this passage, taken from King's From a Buick 8: "How mundane it had been, at least on most days. On most days we had just gone on...[it] didn't change the amount of paperwork we had to do or the way we brushed our teeth or how we made love to our spouses. It didn't lift us to new realms of existence or planes of perception. Our asses still itched, and we still scratched them when they did."

Those lines don't refer to 9/11, but I don't see how any alert reader could fail to see how they apply to it. It's a passage in which our national ability to go on is shown to be inextricable from our national amnesia. It's everything admirable and ignorant about America in a few lines.

You could say Under the Dome is about the consequences of not being lifted to new realms of perception by dire events. As a Twilight Zone version of It Can't Happen Here, fat with character and incident, Under the Dome is an engrossing read, sometimes wobbly in tone, sometimes clumsy in execution. King has never coddled his readers by saving the most likable characters, and a writer who deals so often in horror should be lauded for portraying the ugly reality of violence, even if that sometimes means a descent into pulp. The overt political content of Under the Dome lacks the impact of the more oblique political comment embedded in From a Buick 8 and Cell -- and yet you read this book feeling as if King is grappling with something. We're awash in novels that are collections of beautiful sentences. Next to what King is attempting here, they're the ones that feel sealed under a dome. --Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor has written for numerous publications including Salon, the Boston Phoenix, and The New York Times Book Review.

From the Publisher
"Propulsively intriguing... Staggeringly addictive." -- USA Today

"Tight and energetic from start to finish... Hard as this thing is to hoist, it's even harder to put down." -- New York Times

"The work of a master storyteller having a whole lot of fun." -- Los Angeles Times

"King returns to his glory days of The Stand." -- New York Daily News

"A wildly entertaining trip." -- People (3.5 stars)

"Under the Dome moves so fast and grips the reader so tightly that it's practically incapacitating." -- Newsday

"Stephen King's Under the Dome was one of my favourite books of the year so far." -- Neil Gaiman

"Dome is classic King, sure to please any fan." -- Baltimore Sun

"Spellbinding." -- ABCnews.com

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From two thousand feet, where Claudette Sanders was taking a flying lesson, the town of Chester’s Mill gleamed in the morning light like something freshly made and just set down. Cars trundled along Main Street, flashing up winks of sun. The steeple of the Congo Church looked sharp enough to pierce the unblemished sky. The sun raced along the surface of Prestile Stream as the Seneca V overflew it, both plane and water cutting the town on the same diagonal course.

“Chuck, I think I see two boys beside the Peace Bridge! Fishing!” Her very delight made her laugh. The flying lessons were courtesy of her husband, who was the town’s First Selectman. Although of the opinion that if God had wanted man to fly, He would have given him wings, Andy was an extremely coaxable man, and eventually Claudette had gotten her way. She had enjoyed the experience from the first. But this wasn’t mere enjoyment; it was exhilaration. Today was the first time she had really understood what made flying great. What made it cool.

Chuck Thompson, her instructor, touched the control yoke gently, then pointed at the instrument panel. “I’m sure,” he said, “but let’s keep the shiny side up, Claudie, okay?”

“Sorry, sorry.”

“Not at all.” He had been teaching people to do this for years, and he liked students like Claudie, the ones who were eager to learn something new. She might cost Andy Sanders some real money before long; she loved the Seneca, and had expressed a desire to have one just like it, only new. That would run somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars. Although not exactly spoiled, Claudie Sanders had undeniably expensive tastes which, lucky man, Andy seemed to have no trouble satisfying.

Chuck also liked days like this: unlimited visibility, no wind, perfect teaching conditions. Nevertheless, the Seneca rocked slightly as she over-corrected.

“You’re losing your happy thoughts. Don’t do that. Come to one-twenty. Let’s go out Route 119. And drop on down to nine hundred.”

She did, the Seneca’s trim once more perfect. Chuck relaxed.

They passed above Jim Rennie’s Used Cars, and then the town was behind them. There were fields on either side of 119, and trees burning with color. The Seneca’s cruciform shadow fled up the blacktop, one dark wing briefly brushing over an ant-man with a pack on his back. The ant-man looked up and waved. Chuck waved back, although he knew the guy couldn’t see him.

Beautiful goddam day!” Claudie exclaimed. Chuck laughed.

Their lives had another forty seconds to run.


The woodchuck came bumbling along the shoulder of Route 119, headed in the direction of Chester’s Mill, although the town was still a mile and a half away and even Jim Rennie’s Used Cars was only a series of twinkling sunflashes arranged in rows at the place where the highway curved to the left. The chuck planned (so far as a woodchuck can be said to plan anything) to head back into the woods long before he got that far. But for now, the shoulder was fine. He’d come farther from his burrow than he meant to, but the sun had been warm on his back and the smells were crisp in his nose, forming rudimentary images—not quite pictures—in his brain.

He stopped and rose on his back paws for an instant. His eyes weren’t as good as they used to be, but good enough to make out a human up there, walking in his direction on the other shoulder.

The chuck decided he’d go a little farther anyway. Humans sometimes left behind good things to eat.

He was an old fellow, and a fat fellow. He had raided many garbage cans in his time, and knew the way to the Chester’s Mill landfill as well as he knew the three tunnels of his own burrow; always good things to eat at the landfill. He waddled a complacent old fellow’s waddle, watching the human walking on the other side of the road.

The man stopped. The chuck realized he had been spotted. To his right and just ahead was a fallen birch. He would hide under there, wait for the man to go by, then investigate for any tasty—

The chuck got that far in his thoughts—and another three waddling steps—although he had been cut in two. Then he fell apart on the edge of the road. Blood squirted and pumped; guts tumbled into the dirt; his rear legs kicked rapidly twice, then stopped.

His last thought before the darkness that comes to us all, chucks and humans alike: What happened?


All the needles on the control panel dropped dead.

“What the hell?” Claudie Sanders said. She turned to Chuck. Her eyes were wide, but there was no panic in them, only bewilderment. There was no time for panic.

Chuck never saw the control panel. He saw the Seneca’s nose crumple toward him. Then he saw both propellers disintegrate.

There was no time to see more. No time for anything. The Seneca exploded over Route 119 and rained fire on the countryside. It also rained body parts. A smoking forearm—Claudette’s—landed with a thump beside the neatly divided woodchuck.

It was October twenty-first.

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