Stephen King does it again. This guy has an uncanny ability to transfer his brilliant imagination into lucid prose. Once again, King releases a novel packed with vividly realistic characters, this time over one hundred living, breathing characters. How does he do it? If I knew I'd be rich. I think there is a lot of truth to the way King, himself, describes his ability--a description that is embedded within his magnum opus, The Dark Tower. (The DT description being more supernatural as opposed to the description from On Writing.)
The first thing that struck me about this book was its pace and structure. This is a minimalist Stephen King, something I've never experienced. Though not quite in the territory of Hemingway's iceberg theory, it is an epic pared down to what is necessary for the reader. As such, you will not find the trademark King expositions on town history and a character's lineage. Instead, you will find pure story. Don't let the length intimidate you. Sure, it's up there with The Stand and Mailer's Harlot's Ghost in length, but it's a quick, riveting read.
The second thing that struck me was the pervasiveness of current technology--if you have read a lot of Stephen King novels, you know that they are mostly dismissive of technology, with the small exception of Cell. King even acknowledges his lack of attention to technology in his nonfiction book, On Writing. Under the Dome references iPODs, Apple TVs, Google Earth, Facebook, etc. In addition King also includes plenty of modern-times references including but not limited to Stephenie Meyer, Harry Potter, Nora Roberts, President Obama, and Hilary Clinton. Almost all of these references are laced in good humor!
The third thing that I absolutely savored was King's return to the gore. The book opens in the manner of Cell and keeps it up throughout. His last novel, Duma Key, didn't offer anything nearly as violently exciting, that I can remember. The two novels shouldn't been compared too closely, however; they have different intentions. But they are similar in that they both open with a major event and then spend time investigating the effects of said event. In other words, in typical King style, Under the Dome isn't as interested in the Dome as it is in the lives of the people living under it. As a result, even barring the gory brutality, the book is very dark while exploring the recesses of humanity.
Under the Dome is an investigation of human nature, religion, small-town politics, and relationships--it does have a narrower, more concentrated theme that the whole concept is based on, but stating it would give the story away. King depicts characters so real it's hard to find a stopping point and sleep at night. You despise the characters King wants you to despise, and you cheer for the characters he wants you to cheer for. After so many novels you would think that King was tapped out, or that he would have reused a lot of material (perhaps interlacing elements from The Dark Tower), but he once again proves that his imagination is far from dry. Thanks to King for writing it, Scribner for publishing it, and Amazon for shipping it. Another seven days of the literary equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner!
For the record, I still point to Bag of Bones, Lisey's Story, and Hearts in Atlantis as my favorite King novels.