I have just crawled out from under the dome! One of the great qualities of Stephen King's epic novels is that you really find yourself living in the world that he has created, and in the case of 'Under The Dome' it is a claustrophobic world that gets smaller and smaller as the book progresses. Another great talent of King's is his ability to describe in minute detail a perfectly ordinary day, with people going around their business, and to then bring that day crashing down with the sure knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.
'Under the Dome' is set in Stephen King's familiar stamping ground of Maine, and Chester's Mill is a small town that is not too far from Castle Rock and TR-90. One beautiful autumn morning of blue skies and sunshine, Dale Barbara is fleeing this small American town following a slight difference of opinion with some local youths in car park. He is just about to hitch a lift when his world changes forever. Something has dropped down, seemingly from nowhere, and cuts Chester's Mill off from the rest of the world. There are some immediate bad consequences such as a flying lesson that is abruptly terminated in the worst possible way, a severed arm and scores of dead birds. But as the locals explore this new barrier that now stands between them and the rest of the world, they are still mercifully unaware of what tragedy it will bring.
Such challenging circumstances can either bring out the best or the worst in people, but unfortunately for Chester's Mill their second selectman, Jim Rennie is already a bad 'un, who has been running a drug factory at the back of the local church for years and laundering the profits. He has also been quietly appropriating the town's money and resources, such as propane gas, leaving the population even more vulnerable than they believed. Jim Rennie is also perhaps the only person in town who sees the Dome as an opportunity - an opportunity to take full control and run Chester's Mill like his own private fiefdom. He uses his influence to start expanding the local police force, filling it with untrained youngsters who are only too happy to tout guns and bully the locals.
Dale Barbara, known as 'Barbie' to his friends, is forced to return to the town he was so desperately trying to leave, where he teams up with local newspaper woman Julia Shumway to try and find out what the Dome is, who created it and how they could destroy it. But Barbie is also a man of secrets, a veteran of the conflict in Iraq, and one of the youths who attacked him is the only son of Jim Rennie, a disturbed teenager who is unknowingly suffering from a brain tumour that is sending his behaviour out of control. Their destinies will collide when the White House appoints Dale Barbara as their man to take control of Chester's Mill and Jim Rennie and Junior start a campaign to destroy Barbie's reputation so that they can hold onto power and the town.
So can Dale Barbara stay out of prison or even alive long enough to save the good people of Chester's Mill? With time running out, a small band of people come together in secret to try and find a way to save themselves and their town. But can a physician's assistant, a department store owner and three determined teenagers find out the truth? Are the terrifying dreams of exploding pumpkins and pink stars experienced by the town's children portending some dreadful future or just the product of frightened young minds? How many of the town's residents will allow the horror of their situation let them become puppets of Jim Rennie and his crew, and how many will be able to dig deep within themselves to stand up for what is right and maintain their courage and humanity? And what exactly is the Chef cooking up at the back of the church, and what are his plans for the town?
This is not so much a lunchtime book as a ten course banquet book, and you will need plenty of supplies to keep you going. Red wine, lots of chocolate and popcorn to help you through the book's terrifying and tragic climax, as you learn whether or not Dale Barbara can save Chester's Mill and the lives of those he cares about and what it will take to destroy the Dome. The building sense of disaster and impending doom make this one of Stephen King's best long reads, especially the truly horrifying ending. But although it has been compared to 'The Stand', for me 'The Stand' will always be King's best book. Hand me another glass of red someone!