Stephen King’s newest novel is, at 1,066 pages, his longest in more than a decade—not as big as monsters like It and The Stand, but with a cast of hundreds and an epic scale. What’s really impressive is that for all its brain-bashing size, Under The Dome goes by in a flash. In Misery, King’s novel about the power of fiction, the author hero talks about the “gotta,” the mystical compulsion to find out what happens next. After years of clunky exposition and muddled, intermittently moving character studies, Dome is a rush of blackly comic delight, a poison-pen letter to the small towns on which King has spent so much ink in the past, and a sincere paean to the need for basic decency. Most importantly, the sucker moves.
Dome gets a lot of mileage out of a simple premise: on October 21, a force field encloses Chesters Mill, Maine. In the days that follow, the locals deal with rising temperatures, increased air pollution, the threat of dwindling supplies, and the power this sudden estrangement from consequences gives the town’s less morally inclined citizens. Chief among these is Big Jim Rennie, used-car salesman and local politician, who sees the Dome as a chance to upgrade his small-time power grabs to something far greater. Against him is ex-military man Dale Barbara, newspaper owner/editor Julia Shumway, and a miniscule group of concerned citizens. But Jim has a crazy son and an army of thugs to back him up—plus, as the days pass with no sign of relief, the whims of an easily led populace.
King’s usual mannerisms are in evidence. The protagonists aren’t anywhere near as interesting or complex as the misfits and bastards who fill the rest of the town, and the large cast means that some characters become interchangeable. Thankfully, there are enough inspired caricatures to make up for the occasional chunks of well-meaning Styrofoam. And it can’t be stressed enough: this is King’s best paced novel in ages, and well-plotted to boot. Dome spends the majority of its time on the increasingly ugly things decent people do in a crisis, and in giving his attention to relatable concerns, King does what he does best, creating a community and then tearing it apart. Sometimes the sense of place gets lost in the rush to the end, but the narrative is held together by a “worst choice possible” aesthetic, and an utter ruthlessness. It’s brutal, bloody, and an undeniable blast.