Just Finished: Under the Dome by Stephen King

This is the first book that I have read completely using my new nook e-reader from Barnes & Noble.  It was 1,100 pages long (real pages, not e-pages) and took me almost two weeks to finish.  Of course, I was also reading Gone With the Wind ‘at the same time,’ and I consider it no small accomplishment (for me, anyway) to have finished both of those long books in a combined total of about 20 days.  I do now look forward to reading something a bit shorter, however.

I’d have to say Under the Dome was among my least favorite of the Stephen King books that I have read.  This just triggered the internal question: How many (and which) Stephen King books have I read?  Okay, the ones I remember are:

Danse Macabre
On Writing
Just After Sunset
Bag of Bones

The Dark Tower series (all seven)
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands
Wizard and Glass
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower

Salem’s Lot
The Talisman
The Eyes of the Dragon
The Green Mile
Hearts in Atlantis

To which I’ve now added Under the Dome

If I counted right, I think that’s 17 total.  I’m surprised it’s been that many.  I’d ‘forgotten’ about The Eyes of the Dragon (which I’ve read twice, and often recommend to those who are ‘afraid’ to read Stephen King because they “don’t like scary stuff’  and that The Green Mile was also a Stephen King book (my book club read and enjoyed this book in January 2009).

Of course, I’ve seen many movies based upon his works as well.  Favorites include, but are not limited to, The Shining, Carrie, and The Stand (tv mini-series, which I thought was excellent)

Under the Dome felt a little bit ‘too busy’ (with characters) for me.  The premise, as many may already know, is that a small town (population of about 2,000 if I remember correctly)  in Maine is suddenly encased by a transparent, impenetrable dome.  The source or purpose of the dome remains a mystery throughout most of the book – even at the end, we’re not totally sure about its perpetrators – although we have a pretty good idea.

The amazing thing is how quickly the town ‘goes to hell’ after this happens.  The chief villain in the story is Big Jim Rennie, a town official (the “Second Selectman of the city government – the “First” selectman is an incompetent boob, with Rennie pretty much running the show).  It stretched belief (for this reader) that Rennie immediately begins planning his ‘takeover’ of the town, assuming that the dome will be permanent.  (Rennie is described in one NY Times review as having “been drawn to look just like Dick Cheney”) He hires extra people (e.g. thugs) to bolster the police force (whose honest chief is an early casualty of the dome) including his deranged son, who is suffering from an undiagnosed brain tumor.  There seemed to be no shortage of ‘bad guys’ to fall in line behind Rennie in just a matter of a few days.  (The whole novel only spans a time period of about a week).

Leading the good guys is Dale Barbara (“Barbie” to his friends) and the newspaper publisher Julia Shumway.  Barbie has earlier on run afoul of Junior Rennie and his clique of punks, and is on his way (hitchhiking) out of town when the dome descends.  In one of the better twists of fate in the book, just before the dome descends, a cute blond slows down to give him a ride, only to have second thoughts and speed on without him.  He later wonders that ‘if only that girl had stopped’ he wouldn’t be in this mess – OR, if she had stopped would the time lost mean she  would now also be trapped in the dome or, worse, would they both have perished by slamming into the dome in the vehicle or be cut in half (as an unfortunate woodchuck was, during the overdrawn series of descriptions of victims of the initial descent of the dome – this got a little gratuitous for me after awhile).  Perhaps the opportunity for him to write these scenes is what drew him to write the book in the first place.  In the author’s notes immediately following, he mentions how the book was first started back in the late 70s, only for him to finally take it up again recently.  Funny how a work can lay fallow for so long, only to be re-animated after around 30 years.

The early pages of the book include a couple maps of the town and a list of characters, briefly describing who they are.  The inclusion of this was a good idea for a work this long and this overpopulated, but also illustrated a drawback of using an e-reader.  It’s much more time-consuming to go back to a specific page early in the book (indeed, I don’t know yet how to go to a specific page, only a chapter) to review that list.  I eventually stopped doing this whenever I was momentarily confused and relied on context to remind me ‘just who we are talking about now.’

King remains a good storyteller, of course, and as the book approached its climax, I read much faster and more eagerly, finishing almost the final 200+ pages in one day (a day that I worked 8 hours too).  I wanted to know what was going to happen to these people – wanted to know if the good guys would survive and if the bad guys would ‘get theirs’.  I’ll leave that for readers to find out on their own.

If you haven’t read any King before, though, I wouldn’t recommend you start with this one.  My favorite has probably been Hearts in Atlantis, which is a totally different kind of book.

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2 Comments

  1. Russ said,

    June 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for this review. I personally haven’t read any Steven King, although I’m thinking about broadening the scope of what I read.

    This is the first time I’ve been to your blog – I’m putting it into my reader. I like that you’re talking about reading older books as well as newer stuff – that’s the kind of mix I like as well. Keep up the good work!

    Hope you’re enjoying your Nook (I’m thinking of getting one of those too!).

    Like

  2. stentorpub said,

    June 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Russ,
    Thanks for your comments and thanks for visiting my blog.

    I do, for the most part, enjoy my nook reader. You can’t beat the convenience and portability of having “all those books” in one little device.

    After checking out your blog, I’m guessing you might like Stephen King. I’d recommend you try Eyes of the Dragon, which is a pretty quick, easy read. Or, if you have a few months to spare you could try the Dark Tower series.

    As you point out, I do enjoy a good mix of current books and the “classics.” I think more people should give the classics a try…

    Jay

    Like


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