Under the Dome by Stephen King

An impenetrable dome smashes down over a small Maine town, completely isolating them from the world.

I devoured Under the Dome, thoroughly enjoying King’s blend of deft characterizations, manic plotting, and outrageously broad social satire. Imagine the world coming to an end–but only over a few square miles, while the rest of America watches helpless to intervene.

In true King fashion, he takes an external horror device and uses it to expose the evil within. I’d call him a Calvinist, except it seems that the only kind of Christian King approves of is the one who has decided God doesn’t exist. Here, we get Lester Coggins, a vaguely charismatic preacher prone to apocalypticism and hypocrisy–always going down on his knees even when negotiating his stake in a drug deal–contrasted with Piper Libby, a minister whose growing agnosticism serves to make her more heroic by the minute. He’s toned down his vitriol against “Christians” in his last few books, but methinks that’s only because his recent works have been relatively intimate affairs with few characters. In addition to Coggins, he gives us Big Jim Rennie, a larger-than-life villain in the form of an obese Selectmen, one of Coggins’s flock who uses some Christian vocabulary but otherwise bears no resemblance to an actual believer. I don’t even have a problem with nominal Christians being satirized, but it seems to me that King’s analysis is stuck in the Falwell 80s. The Cogginses of today are more likely to be preaching wealth and prosperity without ever mentioning Jesus at all. I wasn’t buying that Big Jim Rennie needed Jesus to achieve his political goals. King would have me believe that Rennie actually thought Jesus was on his side and I’m not buying that either. King didn’t make it work because he doesn’t believe that there could be real Christians in the first place.

My other critique of the novel comes in its lack of a compelling protagonist. Big Jim Rennie looms so large over the pages of the book, and his heroic counterpart, Dale Barbara, a retired military man now slinging hash at Sweetbriar Rose’s, doesn’t match him in intensity. The others on Barbie’s team all have their moments, but none pop the way that the baddies do. Big Jim’s goals are very clear; the rest have only survival on their mind, but because they can’t escape they’re all trapped in a reactionary mode. I didn’t really latch on to any of them emotionally, so I ended up that same reactionary place.

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