Under The Dome is a ratcheting ride of epic proportion. The modern master of storytelling, Stephen King, has imagined yet another transcendent tale of expertly crafted psychological drama. The horror in Under The Dome has a decidedly human ancestry and although the supernatural plays its characteristic part in King’s story, it remains second fiddle to the monstrous beast that King renders synonymous with human condition.
Under The Dome is the story of the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, which is inexplicably and abruptly confined by an invisible force field, and so sealed off from the rest of the world. William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies runs amuck in the town of Chester’s Mill. As Golding, King explores what happens when a society is cut off from accountability; law and order is rendered redundant by greed and power-lust, and chaos ensues. When food, electricity and water run short, the normal rules of society are replaced by a new social order, which is instituted and commanded by the corrupt and villainous Jim Rennie. King, always a champion of the underdog, places Dale Barbara, a young Iraq veteran, in opposition to Rennie. A band of intrepid citizens join Barbara in an attempt to fight the evil that is all too rapidly seizing their town by the throat, and also to discover the source of The Dome before it is too late. In true thriller style, the only man remotely capable of stopping Rennie is placed in jail for a large portion of the story, and the fate of Chester’s Mill is left to unravel without hindrance.
The nature of The Dome is enigmatically anomalous and the belated discovery of its origin is as passionately rewarding for the reader as it is dauntingly hopeless for the town’s inhabitants. The premise of King’s ideas is genius and The Dome serves as an equivocal informant on the feebleness of human nature. The Dome annuls the external locus of control that government and state have over Chester’s Mill and in so doing the town’s sense of accountability is annihilated yet, ironically, The Dome forces personal accountability – the acknowledgment and recognition of behaviour and actions.
The novel’s greatest success is the acute sense of claustrophobia that is felt with growing intensity as the reader becomes increasingly invested in the lives of the Chester’s Mill residents. As time runs out and The Dome metaphorically closes in, the reader feels as chokingly confined as the story’s participants. King’s character renditions are superb – he cajoles (and sometimes shocks) the reader into caring and the resulting emotional expenditure means that hate, love, pain, anger and joy are experienced in extreme measures. The Dome’s claustrophobic atmosphere forces the reader into an introspective state that is not entirely comfortable. The ‘walking in another’s’ shoes’ idiom runs riot in Under The Dome, and regret is personified into one of the novel’s most poignant characters. As town residents reminisce about past experiences, mistakes in particular, The Dome’s claustrophobic entrapment becomes mental as well as physical. The Dome’s power is fuelled by something so familiar that Barbara and his gang are crippled by a debilitating guilt. This guilt forms the bars of a mental prison, and the emotive and intellectual entrapment felt by the characters osmoses to the reader, who undergoes the same tormenting psychological journey, and evolution, as King’s characters. With guilt comes the potential for self-pity, which is another vicious prison warden whose overwhelming envelopment of the soul has the potential to elicit self-destruction. It will take a true visionary to save lives in Chester’s Mill.
King’s novel is a scintillating read that challenges the status quo. Under The Dome forces engagement, not only with the story but with the reader’s own state of being. The novel has, strangely, been compared to The Stand – perhaps because of its length and apocalyptic intensity. To gain an unadulterated experience of Under The Dome it is best to read it within its own context, without relating it to The Stand upon first encounter. The novel performs at break neck speed and conscripts the reader into an existence under The Dome – an experience that will not easily be forgotten.