Monday, August 3, 2015

Under the Dome: Stephen King

Summary from the back of the edition I read:
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day, a small town is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and rain down flaming wreckage. A gardener's hand is severed as the dome descends. Cars explode on impact. Families are separated and panic mounts. No one can fathom what the barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if— it will go away. Now a few intrepid citizens, led by an Iraq vet turned short-order cook, face down a ruthless politician dead set on seizing the reins of power under the dome. but their main adversary is the dome itself. Because time isn't just running short, it's running out. 
Why I read the book:

We started watching the first season of the TV series Under the Dome on June 30th. Once we started the TV series, I could see that this is the type of novel that I would enjoy, if it followed the various people trapped under the mysterious and impenetrable dome, and let us in on what they were experiencing. I knew that the book was very long, and that alone would normally stop me cold. And it is not crime fiction, which is my usual reading. I think one attraction was that it was clear that there was crime and mystery involved, even if it is labeled a science fiction novel. And it definitely is science fiction, even if that isn't clear until much later in the story.

Within a day or two of starting the TV series, I had investigated the book and found out that it was divided into chunks of smaller chapters centered on a character or an event. Knowing that I could read it in chunks and move back and forth between other reading, I decided to try that approach. I went to the local independent bookstore, checked out their Stephen King section, and found a huge trade paperback copy for $19.99, and promptly bought it. Within three days I had gone from zero interest in the book to buying it and starting to read it. I was sucked in immediately, but I did dole it out over many days. I think it took me 23 days to read it, while finishing four other books in the meantime.


How I liked the book:

Reviewing Under the Dome is difficult for me because I am not a Stephen King fan and thus I cannot draw comparisons to his other work. I mention this because I read several reviews by readers who do know a lot about his other novels, and that did inform what they had to say about this one. I have read two Stephen King novels, and both of them were earlier ones (The Shining and The Stand). The Shining I remember fairly well because of the movie; I remember nothing about The Stand.

Under the Dome has a map of Chester's Mill, the small town that is surrounded by the dome.  I love maps in books, and I liked that it had a character list (including dogs). And I really liked the structure of multiple sections of roughly 50 pages each, divided into brief chapters.

I found Under the Dome very entertaining, very engrossing. It was never boring. I thought the characters interesting, but I will admit that a lot of them were not that well-developed. If I had known just how different the characters in the novel are from the characters in the TV show, I might have been put off reading the book. However, once I had read the first 100 pages or so, I was hooked and had no regrets.

There was a large criminal element in the small town of Chester's Mill prior to the descent of the Dome, but it had been fairly well hidden up to that point. The mastermind running the criminal activities in the area is Big Jim Rennie and he is one of the town's Selectmen. People trust him, and when disaster falls, they turn to him. Some are under his power due to various business deals. Once the Dome puts the town out of reach of any law enforcement from outside, he moves to cause unrest in the town, in order to bring the majority of the population to his side and convince them that martial law is the only answer. Obviously, since the novel is over 1000 pages long, this description is very superficial and there is a lot more going on. But the end result is that this science fiction novel has more murder and mayhem than most crime novels I read. However, there is no real mystery element, other than .... how did the Dome originate? and what can be done about it? And, will Big Jim Rennie succeed?

Through it all my favorite part was the examination of how different people react to this shocking and scary situation, with no one to provide answers. There is a very nice portrayal of a newspaperwoman who is determined to write the true story of what is happening at all costs. My least favorite part was the view of most of the town giving into their baser sides when given the opportunity. I would like to believe that people are basically good. However, here Stephen King provides us with a picture of a small town as a hotbed of evil and secrets.

Comparison to the TV series:

At this point, we have watched only nine episodes of the first season of Under the Dome, so I can only make comparisons to that portion of the show. Most of the core characters are the same in the book and the TV adaptation, but often the things that happen to them or their backstory is completely different. There are many characters in the books that are not in the TV series, and vice versa. The connections with the outside world differ in the two versions. The book is very much darker than the TV series.

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Publisher:   Scribner, 2009.
Length:      1072 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Chester's Mill, Maine
Genre:        Science Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.


15 comments:

  1. I must admit, the length of the book does seem extreme, though as a template for a TV show it seems entirely sensible. I take it that the book does have a proper payoff at the end? Not that King is particularly revered for his sense of narrative clusure ...

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    1. I think you could say that this book has closure, Sergio, although I think many readers wanted more or different closure. I had mixed feelings about the ending; some of it I found disappointing, some of it I was fine with. In this case, my reading experience was more about the journey than the end point, so I was not too concerned.

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  2. What an excellent review. I am tempted to try it based on this. But the length...

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    1. Thank you, Patti. The length can be daunting. I often say the same when I read a review of a very long book. This time I was fine with it.

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  3. Tracy, I usually prefer book to film or television adaptation though in this case I wouldn't mind watching the series. I have never read King and when I do, I'd like to start with a book with fewer pages.

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    1. I think the television adaptation is intended to be quite different, with the same basic setup only, Prashant. So you can almost treat them as two unrelated things. I agree with you, though, the book is usually better because it delves more into the characters and their inner lives. In this case, some people who saw both said the TV series had more depth.

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  4. Interesting review. I have shied away from his novels because of the horror in most of them, but this sounds like one I could read. I liked the series, but got bored with it after a while, it sounds as if the book will keep the reader's attention longer.
    Ann

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    1. Although it has been a long time since I read the earlier Stephen King books, Ann, I think I was put off by his books after that because of the horror element. I would love to find another one I could enjoy, but not going for gory horror.

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  5. Thanks, Tracy, for such a thoughtful and helpful review. I'm honestly not a King expert, although I have thought a few of his books were excellent. This does sound interesting...

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    1. I have not followed Stephen King's career, Margot, so I was surprised to read so much about the ups and downs of his career. I was very glad I opted to read this one.

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  6. The point, that you are not a King fan, makes your review even more interesting because you don`t compare it to his other writings. There are a couple of other King books I wouldn't count as horror, e.g. The Body (which is also very short compared to others) and 11.22.63.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Sandra. I will look into The Body, that is one I never heard of. I have considered reading 11.22.63. A topic that interests and I like time travel. The length is daunting but I think I will find time for it someday. Another couple of books to look for at the annual book sale coming in September.

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  7. I did love this author about 25 years ago and religiously read everything he turned out. I did tire of him though and have only read a few things by him since - mostly disappointing I'm afraid.
    We did watch most of the TV series and it was fairly entertaining, I can't remember if we followed it to it's conclusion or not though. I guess I wasn't that gripped then.

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    1. I have read that Stephen King's writing had its ups and downs. His horror is too horrific for me.

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