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Under the Dome

This story of a Maine town trapped under a dome shows Stephen King at the height of his powers.

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Running through Stephen King’s 1,100-page domesday novel – and you will run through it – one of your first thoughts will be: That didn’t feel like an 1,100-page novel. And, really, can there be a higher compliment for a novelist?

The most immediate comparison for Under the Dome among King’s prodigious 40-plus titles is “The Stand,” an epic account of a killer virus. This time around, ever au courant, King summons up a malicious medley of contemporary horrors: ecological disaster, religious fundamentalism, government corruption, clueless citizenry, and, most chilling of all, civil liberties quashed by fear.

For those living under, well, a dome of late, the novel works from a simple premise: What if a small town found itself cut off from the rest of the world by a clear, impenetrable roof? At first blush, it feels like a dated sci-fi notion. Early chapters almost have a slapstick feel as a private plane crashes into the suddenly arrived barrier and a woodchuck is cut in half just as the dome envelops Chester’s Mill, Maine, and slides deep into the earth.

These early pages flutter by in breezy fashion, despite some grim proceedings. A classic King passage describes the fallout from the plane crash. “It also rained body parts,” he writes. “A smoking forearm ... landed with a thump beside the neatly divided woodchuck.” Cars crash into the unforgiving dome, taking lives and scaring survivors. A humming force field at its edge blows pacemakers to pieces, silences iPods, and shutters cameras.
King assembles a sprawling cast, sprinkling in all of the good and bad of any 21st-century American town. Here is a demagogue pulling the town’s strings with a blend of self-righteousness and corruption, there is an addled pharmacist who never bothers to question anything. OxyContin and crystal meth rear their ugly heads, but so, too, do ingenuity and compassion.

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