Beyond The Pale

Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”

Stephen King’s 2009 novel, Under the Dome, is a hefty work of something over 1000 pages. I’m not sure of the exact number because my reading of the novel was via audiobook, purchased from This is my second reading of the novel, both readings accomplished on different Afghanistan rotations, primarily on trips to the gym and on guard shift. In audiobook format, the novel, read by Raul Lesparga, runs upward of 40 hours.
On a crisp October morning, the small town of Harper’s Mill, Maine, is suddenly blocked off from the rest of the country (and world) when an energy field dome of unknown origin slams down in the sock shape that exactly matches the town’s boundaries. What follows is a Lord of the Flies esque cautionary tale about the abuse of power that takes place when government officials, unchecked by law or the populace, use the machinery of government for their own ends. As Big Jim Renee and his cronies take the town ever more strongly under their corrupt control, a small contingent of independents try to find a cause for, and a way out from under, the dome. Excess leads to excess, and things go quickly from bad to apocalyptic in a well paced and seemingly inevitable chain of events that fascinates the reader, leaving him feeling like the spectator of a car crash, horrified, but both unable and unwilling to look away.
The novel is typical King fare, though on the better end of his spectrum on novels with The Stand and Hearts in Atlantis, far from the shabby end of town where Carrie and many of King’s monster stories like to shake down the unwary for pocket change (unless you are foolish enough to buy them new, then it’s dollars). The plot opens like a flower, with no surprises per se, only inevitability, and a few of King’s much loved (19) and worn out (animals overly integral to the plot) tropes will be readily recognizable to readers familiar to his work. If you aren’t a King reader, however, don’t let this hold you back. This is a great novel, and those tropes are only dropped like bread crumbs along the trail. Not knowing them won’t take anything away from the book. It will only enrich the next of his books that you pick up.
What made me read this novel for a second time (besides not having easy access to new audiobooks), and what I find most interesting and frightening in it, is how much the events in the mill after the closing of the dome remind me of what I see happening today, not in some fictional city, but in my own, all to real country. Perhaps I’m paranoid. Perhaps my current situation as self-appointed (volunteer) indentured servant to mad old Sam cause me to have a more negative view than I should, but I don’t think so. I think that Under the Dome scared me as much as it does because it reminds me that our government is wide open to all kinds of abuses of power. Those in power, both currently and in the previous administration, might imagine that they have our best interest at hear, Big Jim definitely does, but the price they demand in exchange for what they offer is the liberty that lies at the heart of what it really means to be American. As Under the Dome tries to show us if we are looking, this price is simply too high to pay.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | Literature

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