Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Book synopsis:
The community of Chester’s Mill in Maine could have never imagined that one October day, a huge, sock-shaped and of unknown origin invisible element, that would soon come to be called “the Dome”, would shield them off from the rest of the world. The Dome catches Chester’s Mill’s citizens going about their business, maybe driving to a nearby town or working their garden. Whoever happens to stand on the Dome’s limits finds their body separated in two, birds die when they obliviously, forcefully fly into the Dome, and, of course, car and plane accidents due to the invisible field always end up deadly. How does a community of people react when they realise they are alone?

Note: Please, excuse the quality of this review’s pictures, it was rainy in Groningen all week and I could not go outside to take better ones. Instead, Ziggy, my dog insisted on being in this post so…

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This behemoth of a novel was originally a project that Stephen King started in the 70’s but soon gave up on because the amount of facts and information he wished to include in it, overwhelmed him. Stephen King is considered by many the master of horror fiction and undoubtably is a very well-received and much-appreciated author by many readers across the globe. His novel, Under the Dome, follows a vast cast of characters over a short period of time in which a large Dome engulfed their small Maine town and turned their society awry. This novel was also turned into a TV series under the same name which run from 2013 to 2015.

Murder is like potato chips: you can’t stop with just one.

Now, I’ve read both of Stephen King‘s most popular novels, namely The Shining and The Stand and, although I didn’t hate them, I also didn’t particularly like them. Under the Dome was my most recent attempt at understanding what the whole fuss behind one of horror’s biggest names is. And yet again, I was left wondering. See, this story sounds amazing! A town’s borders are completely shielded off by something that cannot be seen and seems to be immaterial but, simply, is there, like a glass dome that extends many kilometers both above and below the ground. Nobody knows what the heck is going on or where it came from but it sure allows the author to navigate in his own horrifying paradigm of the Stanford Prison experiment. It sounds to me like the perfect recipe for success!

If you can’t laugh when things go bad–laugh and put on a little carnival–then you’re either dead or wishing you were.

But what does Mr King do with this brilliant story premise he came up with? Very, very little. So, we have this mysterious and, in many cases, harmful or even deadly dome and we also have a very silly explanation in the end of what exactly that is. During the whole book though, nobody is concerned enough about the Dome’s origin as to turn this novel into a decent mystery book. On the contrary, the plot is very much centered around the people of Chester’s Mill and the function of a society after an unprecedented and shocking event like that happens. It’s as if Stephen King opts for a social study of people’s terror and its effects on decision-making when civilians are cut off from the rest of the world. And yes, a story like this also sounds like a very interesting horror novel. So how did Mr King end up producing such a mediocre result? Such an underwhelming – and at the same time overwhelming novel due to its sheer size – is not what I had expected from such a popular and respected author.

An idea is like a cold germ: sooner or later someone always catches it.

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So where did he go wrong? First of all, there is a huge cast of characters which Stephen King, admittedly, manages to juggle well enough to not only familiarise the reader with their different names and basic personality aspects but also to prevent a crushing amount of information about people getting lost in my somewhat weak working and long-term memory. Other authors have failed here where Stephen King succeeds. A lot of easy-to-remember names, numerous easy-to-remember personalities. But, this comes at a cost. Juggling a whole Dramatis Personae sequence, praiseworthy as it may be, does not guarantee a great novel especially when the said novel is character-driven. Not only are all the main characters polarised into bad or good, ethical or unethical, caring or don’t give a shit, but they are also portrayed as simplistic figures, an outcome that can be attributed to the dichotomous fallacy on which the characters are based on. Furthermore, the large number of people requires the author to be truly talented in presenting them to the reader. The characters were only superficially illustrated in a novel of more than 1000 pages. That is a devastatingly huge amount of pages gone wasted on meaningless dialogues. I actually skimmed through some parts instead of actually paying attention to the text and I still felt like I didn’t miss anything!

If you don’t control your temper, your temper will control you.

It seems that Stephen King was shooting for two main ideas that he wishes to discuss here. One was the idea of bullying or generally the concept of people forcing a weaker individual to the point of cracking them. This notion of power over the powerless renders some of the horror elements that King wishes to introduce in his mammoth novel. The second, of course, is the belief and faith in God which feels overused by this author. Again, such a great name in horror fiction cannot come up with ideas to write horror that don’t include religion and God?

Give a man or woman back his self-respect, and in most cases-not all, but most-you also give back that person’s ability to think with at least some clarity.

My final issue with this novel comes from the extremely narrow-sighted perspective of the world in this book. There is a small town in America in which people are completely cut off from the rest of the world. And yes, I understand that he wishes to focus specifically on the community of Chester’s Mill but where in the world is the rest of the world? The story only deals with Coronel Cox and BBC news. Well, how does the rest of humanity deal with such a huge issue? Why do we only get one perspective? It just feels too simplistic for a novel from such a “great” author. Overall, I would describe this as underwhelming and given its volume, I went into this wishing to feel somewhat overwhelmed so..Stephen King’s standalones are not for me!
I would only recommend this novel to committed fans of Stephen King that have liked more of his previous novels and can appreciate him more than I did.

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