Right off the bat I feel like I may have an uphill battle on my hands. Either A) You know King as that scary writer guy or B) He’s that popular writer you hate (but probably have never read). So if you know him based on either of these points, or via one bad book experience with him, just stay with me.
The story seems simple enough: an invisible dome encases the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine. As the U.S. government tries to find a way to breach the dome’s surface, the citizens of Chester’s Mill react to the barrier in varied and unexpected ways.
Like Night of the Living Dead, the “why” and “how” of the dome take a backseat to the human struggle while under such strange circumstances. This is classic Stephen King. Most of King’s works introduce some fantastic element to drive the plot and provide insight into the human condition (Carrie= telekinesis = discuss fitting in, puberty, etc. The Shining=haunted hotel= discuss the power of a man’s anger and pride).
Over the last decade King has been criticized for his lower quality writing since breaking out in 1974 with Carrie. However, King has somehow managed to capture the manic drive of his early works with this sci-fi drama . How many artists are able to equal their early greatness so late in their career?
The book’s also a pastiche of previously explored themes:
Big Jim Rennie recalls Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone, but with better nuance. Both are power-hungry politicians with a darkness that is unsettling to witness as we read passages from their point of view.
Junior Rennie’s migraines are described similarly to how the St. Bernard experiences rabies in Cujo
The plethora of characters and sub-plots = The Stand
King also re-hashes his Crazed Christian staple, but this time trots out a competing Christian character that follows New Testament Jesus, not pundit/preacher fabricated Jesus.
The manic energy seems to stem from the eight insane years under the Bush Administration, with first selectman Andy Sanders (George Bush) playing puppet for Big Jim Rennie (Dick Cheney). As soon as the bewildering dome comes down, Big Jim preys on the town’s fear to manipulate the town into passing power to him one piece at a time. Ring any bells?
Thankfully, King doesn’t get as blatantly political as he did with the ending to Firestarter, but it’s easy to read such tones; not to mention the shadowy past of hero Dale Barbara, with comments on water boarding and time served in Iraq.
Under the Dome will keep you up until dawn wanting to find out the fate of Chester’s Mill. King has somehow channeled his younger years into this 2009 publication, which is cause for joy. It’s also another piece of art trying to make sense of a terrible decade (The Dark Knight), with the small town offering a microcosm analysis of how things can go so bad so quickly. Though it is not King’s best work (the ending fizzles out), it’s a great read.
King works I’d highly recommend:
Different Seasons: four novellas, three of which were turned into dramatic movies you probably love (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Apt Pupil). “The Body” (turned into Stand By Me) is King at his most human and relatable. Set during a sizzling summer in August, a great read as the season closes.
The Dead Zone: If you could kill Hilter before the Holocaust, would you do it? Provides an exploration of the cost of being able to see into the future. If King knows how to do anything, it’s create tragedy.
Pet Sematary: King at his creepiest, building great tension and atmosphere. Prompts an excellent discussion of the power of grief and hubris. Prior to its publication, King was regularly quoted that this story would stay in a trunk. He and his wife both thought it was too disturbing. It is. Definitely dives into the heart of darkness.
The Bachman Books: These were the stories King wrote under the pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
Rage is a presentation of a kid holding his classmates hostage long before Columbine
The Long Walk follows 100 kids as they try to outwalk each other (you stop, you die). The reward is being set for life, but as Adama said, “Surviving isn’t enough.”
The Running Man is just fantastic action/science fiction. You have to read this. Guy goes on game show The Running Man to win money for his sick daughter. If I recall correctly, the world is so polluted that breathing is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Totally dystopian, feels like the world of Blade Runner with class warfare subtext all over it. Damn good story and a pacing that matches the title. Worth the read for the ending alone. (Don’t worry about the other Bachman book, Roadwork, it wasn’t that great).
I am working my way through Stephen King’s entire bibliography. Updates to come on the project.