Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Raul Esparza
Audiobook Length: 34 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 10 November 2009
“On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as ‘the dome’ comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.”
Thoughts on the Novel: Everyone has secrets. Some are dark and disturbing. Others are embarrassing. All are buried deep so that no one can uncover them. So when a mysterious dome encapsulates a small town one bright fall day, it is just a matter of time before those secrets worm their way to the surface. Such is the driving premise behind Under the Dome.
Granted, much of the novel is about the dome itself, what happened when it came into being, what does or does not pass through it, possible theories on how to break through it, and so forth. It dictates how people act and react, how they think, and how they plan. In that regard, the dome is very much a silent character among the rest.
Speaking of characters, in true King fashion the cast of characters numbers in the double digits. Really, all of the citizens of Chester’s Mill or any visitors trapped within the dome are unique characters. This makes it fairly difficult to keep track of them all, especially when there is very little to distinguish among them. Junior Rennie’s posse is particularly challenging to separate into individuals…at first. Of course, by the time the story ends, there is no forgetting any one person under the dome because Mr. King has brought them to life in a way only he can.
The only real fault one might find with the story is the reason for the dome and how the story ends. While fans are used to lackluster endings and something weird behind the mystery, in Under the Dome it is all just a bit more difficult to accept than normal. This is in part because the townspeople are so alive and their plight so real that the weird origins of the dome are just that much more fantastic. Then there is the seemingly relative ease of confronting those origins and seeking resolution. Again, this is where Mr. King’s master storytelling hurts him because there is no ending that will be a fitting end to the chaos that is Chester’s Mill. Thankfully, King fans are forgiving and able to ignore the preposterous to focus on the deliciousness of the rest of the novel.
Like most of Mr. King’s more recent novels, Under the Dome does not explore supernatural horrors as much as it explores the all-too-real horrors of which human beings are capable. In Big Jim Rennie, Mr. King brings to life a megalomaniac willing to do anything to maintain his hold on the town and his eagerness to do so with a smile on his face and a prayer on his lips is as chilling as any killer clown hiding under in a sewer drain. Even better, while the story’s hero, Barbie is not the innocent one might expect him to be in a story with such a clear bad guy. As always, Mr. King’s storytelling is excellent. While the mystery behind the dome may be hilariously awkward, that does not diminish one’s enjoyment of the story or race to finish it.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: Anyone narrating Uncle Stevie’s works faces a challenge. Not only are his plots gorgeously complex, but so much rides on the many, many characters with which he populates his stories. For narrators, this means finding some way to distinguish between the characters so that listeners easily follow the story without getting confused. Mr. Esparza does a fantastic job meeting this challenge in that he does just that. Each character has a unique voice that makes it easy to know who is speaking at any time. He accomplishes this through pitch and tonality, but he also does it through accent. While Chester’s Mill is firmly ensconced in Maine, not all of the characters as voiced by Mr. Esparza have a New England accent. Some have none. Some have a thicker accent than others. Most memorably, Big Jim Rennie has a southern drawl that just oozes sleazy charm. It may not fit with the locale and the fact that these people are born and raised in Maine, but it works for the audiobook.