I sometimes wonder when Stephen King will stop. Having published more than 150 books, it’s hard not to wonder when the ideas will dry up. What’s next Stephen, a killer broom monster? A giant ribbon that wraps itself around its victims and strangles them of life? A giant dome that comes from the sky and traps a small village of tortured locals inside with no escape?
This last idea is exactly what King has gone for with his latest book, Under The Dome. Reminiscent of The Simpsons Movie in concept, though far less friendly than anything that would occur in Springfield, the citizens of Chester’s Mill awake one morning to find that a massive, impenetrable dome has completely trapped them inside their small village. A gardener reaching for a pumpkin on the town’s border has her hand sliced off as the dome comes down across her wrist. A jet taking off for a flying lesson hits the side of the force field and bursts into flames. Other changes are less immediate, such as the black smog filling the sealed air, and the expanding new police force, with no outside power able to stop them from dishing out their own arrogant forms of justice.
It’s an idea of some simplicity, and it’s unclear initially whether King’s going to be able to pull it off. But what glues the tale together is its citizens – more than a hundred of them – among which lurk some of King’s most vivid personalities. The greatest of them is the father and son team of James and Junior Rennie, who use the segregation of the dome to commit unpunishable atrocities and further their own ambitions. There are drugs, murders, rapes, riots and arson attacks, as the sensible sleepy town begins to show its darker side.
It’s been touted in publicity as King’s best book since The Stand, but I’m not sure I agree. The thing King does best is horror. Truly scary spine-tingling stuff. There are a few dream sequences and moments of character interaction where things are a bit frightening here, but they’re never terrifying, and King loses out by not exploiting what he does best. That said, for those with the stamina, the book still marks a great achievement in King’s canon. ‘Big Jim’ Rennie is his most sinister villain ever, with his vaulting ambition and power coupled with furious and unrelenting religious certainty, making him both a frightful force for evil, and a man of shockingly real-world misguided conviction.
The story is over-the-top, but the people are believable, so you don’t question the authenticity of the situation, or the way Chester’s Mill splits into those who see the dome as a chance to tackle adversity for the greater good, and those who see it as a political opportunity.
Under The Dome’s greatest asset is as a piece of dramatic writing. King’s secret skill of making the innocuous terrifying is trumped only by his skill to place characters in the most unlikely and insane situations, and instinctively know how to make them act as if they lived right around the corner. Plus, the man can write, and the power and ease with which he constructs such cinematic prose, and makes you beg to hear the truth about the dome, is reason enough to give Under The Dome a go.
Lyndon Riggall is a young writer whose criminal obsession with words is catching up with him. Police believe that this may be his blog, and suspect this is his Twitter page, but are calling on the public for more information.