Book Report: Under The Dome by Stephen King (Spoilers!)

Under_the_Dome_Book_Cover_Stephen_King

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these Book Reports, but I feel like it’s been way overdue. This time I’m tackling Under the Dome. With so many people loving it and the fact that it’s a CBS mini-series, I figured I’d share my opinions on this super huge book by Stephen King.

Boy howdy, Under the Dome by Stephen King sure was… something. Before I go on, I must say that I listened to Under the Dome on mp3 CDs, so I didn’t actually “read it.” I’m not sure if that makes a difference to anyone, so I thought I’d just lay it out there.

Under the Dome takes place in a small town in Maine (shocker) called Chester’s Mill. Without warning a mysterious and impenetrable dome materializes around the town. It’s an instantaneous event and the part about the novel I enjoyed the most was the descriptions of what happened when it came down. A few unfortunate townsfolk were caught traveling right into this giant invisible force field as it appeared with some pretty disastrous results.

However, after this particular section of the novel, it became less and less enjoyable. It doesn’t take long for the town’s 2nd selectman, a man by the name of James Rennie, to turn Chester’s Mill into complete crap. The good people suffer for far too long and then the ending happens after 1,000 pages leaving you feel like you have a great big void in your life.

The plot of Under the Dome goes like this: Dome comes down, evil people take charge, the main hero is thrown in jail, everyone acts like idiots, the heroes escape to another part of town, a huge meth lab (owned by the head bad guy) blows up, and everyone in town is killed except for the heroes. They figure out that alien children are responsible for the dome, they make contact with them, beg for their lives, and one of the alien kids takes the dome way. Bleh.

Under the Dome contains a few of King’s long stream of King Cliches, and really exploits his use of religious people as either being crazy, evil, or crazy and evil. There is one major exception in that the one good pastor in the town doesn’t actually believe in God anymore. Look, I know there are a lot of religious nuts in the world, but it’s incredibly tiring when the dick bag zealot pops up in every other King story and it’s especially tiring when there’s multiples of the same sterotype. Hell, another bad guy who plays a critical role in the ending of the the book, “The Chef” is insane and religious too.

The head villain, as played by Boss Hog aka James Rennie gives one dimensional characters a bad name. He’s just a scum bag with no redeemable qualities. Since he is a King character he has to have some sort of twist, so he’s not just evil, he’s religious and he doesn’t swear. Instead, he throws out these terrible replacements for swearing like, “cluster muck” instead of cluster fuck. It’s aggravating.

Rennie is pure evil and I find it hard to believe that such a person could have so much control over the townspeople of Chester’s Mill, but I guess it isn’t hard when everyone else is either stupid or just plain evil themselves.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Under the Dome is how the protagonists actions during the course of the plot ultimately lead to nothing. I guess it’s like real life in that respect, but leads for a completely unsatisfactory story. The best example of this is the “Vader File”, a file on the recently departed police chief’s computer detailing an investigation into Jame’s Rennie’s illegal activities. It is something that King leads the readers to believe has some significance in the unseating of this small town dictator. The file ends up missing for about half the book and then when it does show up in a town meeting essentially it becomes a non-issue almost instantly.

Not only that, Barbie, one of the main hero types of the book, gets thrown in jail after being falsely accused of murdering a bunch of folks, is rescued, and… well he is almost worthless as he doesn’t do a whole lot to further the plot other than request some giant fans to blow in a tiny bit of air when they most need it. How about the town’s remaining doctor (who really isn’t a doctor), Rusty? He comes up with evidence that Rennie is a murderer and instead of being smart about it, he confronts Rennie on his own and is thrown in jail himself after getting the shit kicked out of him by Rennie’s goons. How about Brenda Perkins, the widower of the town’s Sheriff that dies right after the dome comes down? She decides to confront Rennie alone despite explicit orders not to and she ends up getting killed for it. Then there’s Andrea, the town’s third selectman who goes through detox and struggles for 800 pages, only to go off on her own to confront Rennie and, well you can probably guess that doesn’t end well. You see, the protagonists of this book are either completely useless or morons of the lowest caliber.

And speaking of morons, boy the townspeople are dumb as shit. Somehow they’re lead to believe that there’s a conspiracy called ‘Friends of Barbie’ who want our hero Barbara freed. Rennie stages it to look like this fictional group burned down the newspaper office, even though the newspaper was on Barbie’s side. I realize that people would be panicky and nervous but A. I refuse to believe that most of the town would think Rennie is a great guy B. They could see the types of goons he was hiring as cops. C. There’s accusations of a gang rape against some of these cops D. The person put in charge by Presidential order is accused of murder and thrown in jail. E. The fucking newspaper was on Barbie’s side! It’s so hard to believe that the people of Chester’s Mill wouldn’t start putting things together sooner.

Under the Dome could have been a lot more powerful if the townspeople started out to be essentially good and the stress of the situation turned them evil. Instead we’re given some one dimensional villains and let them run loose on the populace. Furthermore, even with these shallow characters in charge, it would have been much more satisfying to have the ending be a power struggle and not in some sort of cataclysm.

Now not everything that I disliked about Under the Dome has to do with characters or story. Out of all the Stephen King books I’ve read (I’ve read a little over half of works, I believe) Under the Dome is probably the most difficult one to get through. This is not counting the books that were hard to get through because I found them boring. No, this one was tough for me for mostly because the heroes are so damned helpless. And it seems like an eternity before they even start acting in their own interests. And even then they make some pretty stupid mistakes.

I’ll just hit you with a few bullet points of some of the worst parts of this novel:

  • It takes over 1,000 pages for the HEROES TO BEG FOR THEIR LIVES, in order to get out of the mess they’re in.
  • A ghost tells a dog where the secret file is located. Let me repeat that: A ghost tells a dog where a secret file is located.
  • This line: “Then it came down on her again, like unpleasant presents raining from a poison piñata: the realization that Howie was dead.”
  • Everyone has the internet in the town and the file is electronic, but somehow the hard copy of the file is what’s going to nail Rennie.
  • The town has internet access, but somehow burning down the newspaper destroys the ability of the good guys to spread their information.
  • The Stephen Spielbergian smart kid is basically smart because he set up a web cam.
  • The wife of the town doctor was giving her husband blank CDs for his birthday gift.

Under the Dome was published in 2009 and takes place in 2012. Has anyone noticed on this list that it seems like King has barely any grasp on the technology of 2009 or even attempted to consider what might be in the near future?

I’m amazed how much people like Under the Dome and how many positive reviews it received. I can kind of understand liking the first half of the book. For all of it’s faults, there’s so much potential in the power struggle that develops, but it all just disappears in a giant explosion. None of the actions taken by the protagonists makes a damned bit of difference. It’s too bad. If it wasn’t for this and the ridiculous ending, Under the Dome could have been really great.

Score: .5 out of 5 domes

  • Austin Gorton

    I enjoyed the act of reading the book far more than the actual book itself. That is, I was completely sucked in as I read it (one of the last books where I really didn’t want to put it down), because I wanted to know what happened next, wanted to know how the heroes would prevail and how the villains would be defeated.

    So like most people, the ending bothered me. Not because of the reveal of the source of the dome or the heroes having to beg for their lives (because all that fits King’s aesthetic and “alien children” is as good an explanation as any), but because the villain didn’t get nearly enough comeuppance.

    I totally, absolutely, 100% bought Rennie’s stranglehold on the town, but I’ll admit King was speaking to my political bias, in that I don’t have a hard time believing people will unquestionably follow anyone who is politically conservative and pays lip service to fundamental Christianity. His ability to sway the town to his side throughout the book, despite all the logic to the contrary, infuriated me, but only because I know there are people in the real world who do the same thing.

    So I kept waiting for Rennie to get his comeuppance in the end, to pay for his crimes in a satisfying way we rarely get for the real world demagogues he emulated, to not just die, but to realize just how immoral and wrong he actually was, and that never happened. He paid the ultimate price in the end, but it wasn’t enough for me, and that was my biggest issue with the ending.

  • Chris Piers

    I’m pretty interested in what the tv show will do with the premise. I think the premise and some of the characters could really go in an interesting direction. I’m sure they’ll change the ending.

  • Tom Mathias

    Certainly not my favorite King novel (probably not even in my top10) probably the biggest disappointment to me was the alien kids origin of the dome, but in retrospect the dome was just like putting a lid on a pot of soup, it was supposed to keep things cooking and hopefully make something tasty. I agree that several of the characters seemed to suffer from terminal stupidity and also that the superficial Christian by way of psychopath trope is a bit overdone. I plan to watch the series although sadly my expectations aren’t set incredibly high

  • Knarf Sudragob

    Get off the King Train and give his son Joe Hill a shot. I am half way through NOS4A2 and loving it!

  • Monte

    “Under the Dome could have been a lot more powerful if the townspeople started out to be essentially good and the stress of the situation turned them evil. Instead we’re given some one dimensional villains and let them run loose on the populace.”

    Absolutely! I couldn’t believe he sacrificed all the potential tension. I’ve said before: if King wrote Lord of the Flies, the boys would kill Piggy before they hit the island.

  • anonymous

    as ususal Stephen King leaves me ??????, never impresses me, guess I just don’t get his style

  • Chris Piers

    I take this back. I couldn’t even get through the first season.