The king of pulp fiction
Now comes Under the Dome, King’s longest novel since The Stand, and a book with a central premise that could not be more basic: the good, and bad, people of the town of Chester’s Mill are suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by a huge dome, an invisible forcefield stretching thousands of metres into the air, and hundreds underground. Planes crash into it (one, incidentally, with a shamrock on its tail); pacemakers explode in proximity to it; and families and, indeed, individual bodies are divided by it.
Cleverly, what King does for the next 500 pages, and more, is to ignore the source of the dome and instead concentrate on the consequences of its appearance for the people of the town. Jim Rennie, the town’s ruthless big cheese, plots to turn the whole incident to his advantage, aided by his odious son Junior, a police force that quickly becomes his own private militia, and the natural fear and panic of the townsfolk. Against him are ranged an oddball assortment of children, former soldiers and, in one curious incident, a dog apparently haunted by ghosts. Meanwhile, the air under the dome begins to turn foul, and supplies start to run out.
Despite the fact that The Simpsons Movieemployed a similar idea to relatively comic effect a couple of years ago, Under the Domeis King’s most purely entertaining novel in years, due in large part to the simplicity of its premise and the discipline of its pacing, a meth-lab subplot that never entirely delivers on its promise aside. It is a long book (too long, inevitably, and it starts to wobble a little at the 700-page mark) but not a sprawling one. King carefully follows the consequences of each act, however small, and there is a certain horrible logic to all that occurs.
Unlike many of the books he has written in the aftermath of the catastrophic automobile accident in 1999 that shattered his body, and has shadowed his fiction ever since, there are no lengthy examinations of the creative urge here, and tortured-artist figures representing the author are notably absent. Reminiscent of an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, Under the Domeis completely unpretentious, frequently violent and utterly compelling.
As in the strongest of King’s earlier novels, the nature of the dome’s creators, good or bad, alien or otherwise, is of less concern to him than the base human motives of those trapped beneath it. The dome is a McGuffin, nothing more, and the eventual explanation for its creation is unlikely to raise many eyebrows in shock. There are echoes of The Shiningin the concept of a sealed environment acting as a hothouse for the germination of evil, but, as in that book, the location functions merely as a catalyst. For King, evil is the water that threatens always to breach the dam, with human frailty as the crack it seeks to exploit. True evil has power only to corrupt those who are themselves already seriously flawed, but that is about as profound as this novel gets. Under the Domeis pulp fiction, but it’s pulp fiction created by a master.
John Connolly’s latest novel is The Gates