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This article was published 11/12/2009 (4166 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Under The Dome
By Stephen King
Scribner, 1,073 pages, $40
WOW! This massive horror-cum-science-fiction novel finds Stephen King back on his game.
It's not surprising to learn that the American pop-culture hero first started to write Under The Dome in the 1970s. This was when he was doing his best work, such as The Shining and Salem's Lot.
When this one opens, it's a quiet day in the small Maine town of Chester's Mill. We've seen such Maine towns many times before in King's work, towns that have seen better days, where the factories have closed, where the young people have fled for lack of opportunity, and where one person is even attempting murder.
Then suddenly from out of nowhere comes an impenetrable force field, separating Chester's Mill and a bit of countryside from the rest of the world. A plane hits the invisible dome, animals are sliced in two, families are separated outside and inside the force field.
As the days go by, supplies run low and civilization gives way to anarchy.
The military and media stand on the other side of the force field, but whatever the American military and scientists try, the dome won't crack.
The president issues instructions on how the trapped inhabitants are to conduct themselves while awaiting an ever-more-improbable rescue. But those inside the dome quickly realize they're on their own.
Before you realize this sounds like a novel you've read in an English lit course, one character expresses amazement that it takes such a short time for everyone within the dome to go all Lord of the Flies.
Under the Dome has two major protagonists, Dale Barbara, a special forces veteran now drifting and trying to forget atrocities in Iraq, and Big Jim Rennie, small-town power broker.
As people within the dome choose sides, Rennie lets his inner fascist run wild. He boots out the handful of decent police on the town force, and recruits supporters from among unemployed young louts, layabouts and ruffians. The school bully now carries a badge and a gun.
Rennie has a lot to hide. Though he's a Bible-quoter who abhors foul language, Big Jim is also running rural Maine's biggest crystal meth lab.
Don't get too attached to anyone in Under the Dome. There are more than 100 characters, and both good guys and bad guys die throughout its 1,073 pages. This is one of King's darkest novels.
The divisions between good and evil are pretty transparent, and King's liberal bias is everywhere evident. The religious right -- wallowing in porn, adultery, drugs, murder, and hypocrisy -- aligns with the thugs.
Lining up with Barbara are the hippie minister, the librarian, the staff of the tiny newspaper, various kindly and decent folk, smart young teens who acknowledge that they'd be the nerds in a Spielberg film. These are the people who, King hints, re-elected Obama for a second term a year or so before the dome comes out of nowhere.
As the food, water and fuel dwindle, as the air turns foul, as hope fades, and as the battle for survival between good and evil builds, the mystery of the dome always overhangs.
As much as Under the Dome is scathing social commentary, it's also creepy stuff, King's best in a long, long time.
Nick Martin is a Free Press reporter.