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Stephen King
Under the Dome
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2009

Scribner / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-439-14850-1
Publication Date: 11-01-2009
1,072 Pages; $35
Date Reviewed: 12-12-2009

Index:  Horror  General Fiction  Science Fiction

I suppose the ultimate irony is that readers will find after only leaving Kings latest novel that they identify with the Big Bad on one important point — they'll wish they could remain there for longer, even if it’s turning into a little mini-hell on earth. The conceit is simple. Put a force field around an American small town and watch what happens. Inside, the citizens slowly come out of their everyday disguises and reveal their true characters. This is perhaps King's most character-driven work.

King handles every aspect of this novel with a professional ease that makes it easy to ignore just how good a writer he is. For one, thing, King quite pointedly does not write about Great People. There are no Mahatma Ghandi's there in Chester's Mill once the Dome falls. The population of this small town is about as shallow as most of the folks you'll meet in the grocery store. But they are eminently real, and King involves you in a lot of lives while delivering a pulse-pounding thriller. It's an all American small-town mimetic reality novel as seen through a magnifying glass that might burn a few ants while revealing some deep flaws.

King handles his huge cast with a perfectly even hand. We know who we're supposed to care about and why, but he also uses the large cast as a sort of plot point, eliciting "Oh, yeah, THAT guy!" from the reader as he turns his attention to secondary characters. Given his one invention, the Dome, he explores the consequences of such an event in ever manner possible, from the smallest critters to the entire US government. It's all fun to read, and often-enough, thought-provoking.

And as for the page count, this book is so tightly edited and constructed, that you'll really feel and read it as if it is a 300-page thriller, not a 1,000-plus page tome. It's relentlessly unhappy, yet there's the true joy of actual humanity revealed, not to compensate, but because humans are actually worthy of (bits of) true joy. Every life can include them. In every life, there can be a week when one spends the days glued to the couch, immersed in a wonderful book that somehow reveals to us how monstrous and wonderful we can be, we are. This is America — and King offers you America under the dome. Served straight up, with a side-order of truth. Try not to be at that point where the magnifying glass burns the ants it reveals.

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