Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
The first 57 pages of Stephen King’s latest novel Under the Dome, detail the immediate consequences of the descent of an invisible dome over the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, which lies northeast of the infamous Castle Rock. (Pretty much the rest of the novel deals with the extended consequences of this incident.)
The descent of the barrier causes quite a bit of damage. A woodchuck is cut in half. An airplane crashes. Several automobiles smash into its curved surface. Birds break their necks as they fly into the transparent hemisphere. The reader isn’t forewarned of the woodchuck’s fate, but the omniscient narrator does give advance notice concerning the deaths of some of the human characters. Concerning Claudette Sanders and her flight instructor, Chuck Thompson, we are told, “Their lives had another forty seconds to run,” and we learn that “the next time” Brenda sees her husband, police chief Howard (“Duke”) Perkins, “he was dead.”
Nevertheless, death is sudden Under the Dome:
He felt the buzzing she had described, but instead of passing, it deepened to searing pain in the hollow of his left shoulder. He had just enough time to remember the last thing Brenda had said--Take care of your pacemaker--and then it exploded in his chest with enough force to blow open his Wildcats sweatshirt, which he’d donned that morning in honor of this afternoon’s game. Blood, scraps of cotton, and bits of flesh struck the barrier.Before his unceremonious demise, Howard had served on the Chester’s Mill’s police force for over thirty years; in an instant, he is dead, gone as if he never existed.
The crowed aaahed.
Duke tried to speak his wife’s name and failed, but he saw her face clearly in his mind. She was smiling.
And he’s not the only resident of the town so summarily dispatched.
The suddenness and the quickness of the townspeople’s deaths bespeaks the uncertainty and danger of everyday life that we seldom consider, busy as we are living our lives. A world in which a flight instructor and his student or a police chief with more than three decades of service to the community under his belt can be killed with as much abandon as a woodchuck is a dangerous world, indeed; it is also, perhaps, an absurd one, for what meaning or value is possible in a world in which human beings are dispatched with as little rhyme or reason and as much cosmic indifference as a woodchuck is suddenly sliced in half?
The opening pages of Under the Dome suggest such questions.
The rest of the novel, we expect, will offer some answers.