Stephen King – The Environmentalist?

Under the Dome book coverI just finished Stephen King’s 1,000-plus fat brick of a novel entitled “Under the Dome.” I haven’t read a Stephen King book since putting down “Insomnia” half-way through sometime back in the 90s. As a kid and college student, I devoured his novels, but grew out of them and grew bored with the way King would start out with a fascinating concept and then always take things a little too far.

Under the Dome didn’t suffer from that. Under the Dome is a page-turner to the very last page. I haven’t been this addicted to a book since reading The Memory of Running several years ago. I would take this absurdly thick book with me to the gym, read while eating breakfast and lunch, and on several nights it would follow me up to bed, where I would gobble up a few more pages before turning in.

The premise is what got my attention in the first place, and why I ordered the book in its bulky and unabridged hardcover form. A small town of about 2,000 people in Maine is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the world by an invisible force field that allows nothing to penetrate – in or out. That’s the predicament, and what follows is a study of human nature when faced with being cut off from everything that will sustain them.

To me, the dome was an allegory. Apparently some of the reviewers of the book on Amazon agree with me. The dome could be climate change. It could be resource depletion. It could be peak oil. It could be all of the above. When the townspeople finally grasp the reality of their entrapment and the power goes out what do they do? They go on living pretty much the same way (although they plug in their TVs and appliances into propane powered generators). They tell themselves it will all get resolved soon and the government will “do something.”

The government does do something. Their knee-jerk response is—you guessed it—military and explosive. It does more harm than good, however, since nothing—not even bombs and missles—can permeate the dome. Conspiracy theories abound. People point fingers and assign blame. The national media turns it into a 7/24 talking head circus. Certain people in authority begin to plot their corrupt rise to power with the cover of doing “for the good of the town.”

But I’ll tell you what people WEREN’T doing. No one was asking how they would get through the next several weeks or months if indeed the “techno fix” didn’t work. No one turned off their generator to save on fuel and keep the air inside the dome clean. No one made a run for the grocery store, or conducted meetings on how to acquire fresh water without electricity. Instead, the townsfolk concerned themselves with more banal matters: politics, gossip, and matters of ego.

Cooperation and a community spirit is almost lacking. No one is thinking long-term except a couple of the main characters, but it’s only background static to what they’re dealing with from moment to moment.

I found myself wanting to shake someone and tell them to wake the f*** up and smell the coffee, pretty soon they’re going to suffocate themselves and run out of water if they don’t start dealing with the situation. But alas…

Everything that happens under the dome happens not because of the dome, but because of how the townspeople react to it. It happens because of greed, ignorance, ego and a quest for power (for the sake of power).

I have no idea how much of his personal philosophy King injected into the book, but I had as much fun trying to find out as I did following the fast-paced plot. When the evil antagonist turns out to be a right-wing fundamentalist Christian who refers to environmentalists as “bleeding heart liberal tree-huggers” I can’t help but smile. There are many snippets throughout the book where that same antagonist is described as a city government official who had no qualms about allowing a Wal-Mart to be constructed, but ignored the question of whether or not there was too much gray water being dumped into the local streams. One of his last rants before he finally expires at the end of the book is about how “it’s always something!” If it’s not climate change, it’s nuclear fallout. If it’s not concern for the ozone layer, it’s something else. When confronted by the reality of a poisonous air outside the bunker where he’s holed up, he waves it off with impatience, no doubt out of guilt and denial, as he bore most of the blame for the disaster.

“It’s just smog! It’ll clear.”

Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t clear, and he dies as soon as he sucks in his first breath of it.

Stephen King, you turned out alright.