Chester’s Mill, Maine was a nice enough little town with a population of 1,152 on a normal day. But one Friday in October was certainly not a normal day. Oh, sure, people were going about their usual routines, the weather was fine, and everything looked just as it should --- until an invisible dome sealed the citizens of Chester’s Mill inside. Nobody could get in, and nobody could get out. Was it some kind of government experiment? An inside job? Maybe something from another world? Whatever it was, it brought out the best and the worst in the men and women of this one little village.
As the dome comes down, Dale Barbara is just about to pass the city limits, having little to stay around for and lots of reasons to leave. “Barbie,” a veteran of the Iraq War, hasn’t been able to put down roots anymore --- war can do that to a person. Now, after a confrontation with several of Chester’s Mill’s local toughs, he has decided to head out before he seriously hurts someone. Standing on Highway 119, he has his thumb out, hoping for a ride. A blonde in a Ford pickup almost stops. Almost. Who knows why she speeds up and drives on down the road? She is the lucky one as she is the last person to get out before the dome descends.
News of this perplexing barrier hits Chester’s Mill City Hall, and Second Selectman Big Jim Rennie --- a used car baron, among other things --- sighs and takes up his role as town leader. No one else can guide these people as well as he can, and he accepts this for he believes that God has chosen him to shepherd His flock. Unfortunately, Big Jim’s religion has little resemblance to the kind of religion folks find in church. In fact, he is a very dangerous man, made more dangerous by his sanctimonious attitude and his ravenous hunger for power. Just about the only person as dangerous as Big Jim Rennie is his son, Junior. Both of these men hate Dale Barbara’s guts and anyone who sides with him, for Big Jim and Junior have begun thinking in terms of “sides.”
It doesn’t take long before panic sets in, and panicked people do horrible things they wouldn’t ever think themselves capable of ordinarily doing. Soon, good and evil square off under the dome. While Big Jim Rennie choreographs a chaos designed to maintain the town’s dependence on him, Barbie and a handful of brave souls --- including town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids --- work to solve the riddle of the dome. They will have to figure a way out of this themselves as outside help is not an option.
UNDER THE DOME boasts a huge cast of characters with Stephen King in the role of puppet master. As only he can do so masterfully, he breathes life into each man, woman and child, gives them a mission, and then keeps them out of each other’s way --- unless he wants them to clash. Oh, and he does. He surely does.
Chester’s Mill and its townspeople will take over your life for days, just as the dome takes over Chester’s Mill. When you emerge from the wreckage of what was once a nice enough little town, you’ll want to walk along with the survivors for a while, shake their hands, pat them on the back, and extract promises to stay in touch. Theirs is a story that will linger for a long time.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 24, 2011