Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TBR Double Dog Dare: Under the Dome by Stephen King

I have had this book in my library for years -- pretty much since it came out in 2009, I think -- so it was entirely fitting that it should be the first book that I read as part of the TBR Double Dog Dare, hosted by James at James Reads Books.

And what a read it was! I enjoy pretty much anything by Stephen King, with only a few minor disappointments over my years of reading him. But this novel reached new heights of page-turner-ability.

I don't know how Mr. King came up with the idea for this novel, but it struck me that it could have been the outgrowth of a popular writing trick used by many writers to get inspired: the "What If?" game. You know -- "What if an impregnable dome suddenly covered a small rural town?"

The dome is crystal clear, so what happens first is a series of predictable gruesome accidents involving planes that fly right into it and explode, cars and trucks that drive into it and crunch themselves (and their drivers) up like accordions, and people that happened to be right on the edge of the boundary when the dome came down. None of this was pretty, although I admit it was entertaining to see how King kept riffing on that conceit. Oh yeah, and water and air really don't pass through the dome to any appreciable degree, so the atmosphere inside the dome starts getting funky very fast. And then some things happen that make it SUPER funky. So think of rats trapped inside an airtight container, and you have the perfect setup for this story.

But of course the main thing that happens is that you have a bunch of people, some good and some not-so-good, all trapped together in the little town of Chester's Mill, which is the town encompassed by the dome. No one can get in or out, and this proves to be a problem when "Big Jim" Rennie, the head honcho in Chester's Mill, decides to finally control the town exactly as he pleases with no possible interference from the outside world.

Trapped inside the dome with all the townspeople are a number of unlucky outsiders, foremost of which is Dale Barbara ("Barbie" to his friends AND enemies). Barbie runs afoul of Big Jim's son, Junior, and it is the conflict between them (and Junior's friends AND Big Jim himself) which drives the majority of the action in the book. Barbie is an ex-soldier who wants to keep it that way. But no one is interested in letting him keep a low profile as a diner cook, especially the military commanders outside the dome. They realize that Barbie is their only way of even hoping to control the events inside the dome, and he is quickly reinstated into the military and given a promotion in rank. However, this dream of Barbie controlling the downward spiral inside the dome turns out to be a pipe dream.

I loved this book. And it completely sucked me in. The way I know this is, when the events in the book started spiraling out of control (which, honestly, is around page 2), I could feel my blood pressure rising dramatically. When Barbie was unjustly attacked and accused of all kinds of misdeeds he simply didn't do, I got so irritated and upset that I wanted to jump through the pages of the book and slap several characters upside the head.

The only thing I was truly disappointed about was the rationale behind the dome. Many of the Chester's Mill residents immediately blame the government for the dome, calling it a science experiment gone wrong. The truth behind it is much more bizarre and -- let us say -- otherwordly. And this didn't sit well with me somehow. I felt like it was the tiniest bit of a cop-out on King's part, although he did a good job of providing a rationale to why the dome was there. But the end felt vaguely unsatisfying nonetheless. However, I definitely would still read it again.

Let me tell you, though: this book is the chunkster to end all chunksters: over 1,000 pages in its dead-tree edition. I got so caught up in the story that I wanted to read it all the time, including in bed at night, and I quickly realized that trying to read a 1,000 page novel in bed just ain't the easiest thing in the world. So about a quarter of the way through the book I gave up and bought the Kindle edition and put the print edition in my give-to-the-local-library stack. And I never looked back.

Now: imagine my disappointment when I eagerly cued up the TV series version of the book. All I could stomach was two episodes, and I was done. Number one, it's awful, and number two, it has virtually NO relation to the plot of the book. I was shocked. And disgusted. But then again, I enjoyed the book so much, I should have known that the TV series would not have been able to hold a candle to it, even if they had followed the book as closely as possible.

All in all, an excellent beginning to my TBR Double Dog Dare adventure!


  1. I won't deny that this one was quite the page-turner, but I didn't like it as much as you did (that would be difficult, I think) :-)

    It's been almost five years since I read it, but I did also share your disappointment with the more recent miniseries and lasted almost exactly long as you did with it (and I had such high hopes with Breaking Bad's Dean Norris (a hoosier!) playing Big Jim Rennie).

    If you'd like to read my 'review' it's at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/just-finished-under-the-dome-by-stephen-king/ but keep in mind that it was written in the infancy of my blogging days and may be more like a book report. :-)


    1. I thought you gave it a fine review. I was interested to note that we both used some of the same language in describing the book, though -- great minds. :-)