Friday 27 May 2011

Devouring Stephen King: The Stand

It's finally happened. After what seems like actual years complaining on Twitter, putting it aside to do other things and (I'm pretty sure) getting employed in the process, I have finally finished The Stand. 1421 pages of a whole lot of characters, a whole lot of events, and a whole lot of disappointment.

I'm going to qualify this straight away. I did enjoy The Stand, because if I hadn't then I wouldn't have bothered finishing it (something that looked like it might happen at certain points, eg when I hadn't read it for about a month), but there is a vital error, I think, in the way King has structured this novel, and the things he chooses to pay the most attention to. He spends an unholy amount of time paying attention to what would need to be done to rebuild society on a small scale after a disaster where 99% of the population has been wiped out, and it is clear from the attention he gives to this issue that this is something that he finds interesting, and has thought a lot about. To be fair, it is interesting, and King could probably write a whole book on the issue, but it feels like the amount of time spent on this means that there is an ending that feels completely rushed, and a little out of touch with the rest of the book. Case in point: 4 very important characters leave at the end of part 2, and don't show up again for about 150 pages, and really aren't treated with the kind of respect that they deserve in consideration of the rest of the novel. There is also a really really irritating death of a major character, which doesn't annoy me in itself, but just in principle in terms of King building him up to be majorly important and then just killing him without actually doing anything with him. Annoying.

The Stand does have some amazing characters though, both good and bad. I love the way King sets up an ultimate good and then an ultimate bad character, and then allows there to be a mass gathering of people around each of them, depending on whether there is more good than bad in them. Apart from the two 'ultimate good' and 'ultimate evil' characters, I feel like this displays a really realistic view of humanity, in that everyone has the ability to be good or bad, and this depends on so many different factors that it is hard to predict which way anyone will choose to go. Among these realistic characters, there are some that turn out to be so wonderful that you're almost sad that they don't actually exist so that you can't be their friend- Stu, the quiet East Texan who finds the self that he never knew he could be because of the superflu is probably my favourite, but Nick, Larry and Fran are all also wonderful, fully rounded characters. And, as King is wont to do, the bad characters are just as well sketched and dissected- Harold is probably one of the most conflicted characters in King's work, and he presents a fascinating psychological study to us- he has the option to change himself and really be something, instead of just being petty and hateful his entire life, and watching him struggle with this is sort of amazing.

I just realised that, in the last paragraph, I brought up the superflu without ever mentioning it before, and in a way that is part of the problem with the book- you sort of forget that the premise of the story, and the reason everyone gathers in Colorado is because of this virus that wiped out most of the population. Case in point: One character goes to another farm to get a chicken to kill, and laments that she can't call up a taxi to go there, and I sort of thought 'well, why doesn't she call up a taxi?' and then realised why and felt mildly embarrassed for myself. Part of this was definitely to do with reading it over such a long period of time, but also just the complete separateness that each part of the book really does have.

In terms of scariness, The Stand is scary in as far as it is a situation that could really happen (at least at the beginning)- I'm almost positive that military agencies around the world are creating viral warfare right now, and if just one person escaped while infected with a disease... let's just say it wouldn't be good. There are also some really horrifying images that come out of the book (walking through a pitch black Lincoln Tunnel filled with dead bodies, for example) that you really wouldn't want to have to deal with. As for the bulk of the horror, though, the setting up of the struggle between good and evil, and 'the dark man', I really didn't feel the true horror of that- in the end, I think Flagg was not really that formidable an example of evil, and never really does anything to warrant the amount of fear associated with him. It's probably fair to say that I enjoyed the first part of the book, the spreading of the superflu, far more than what followed from it, even though I did really care about what happened to those fortunate/unfortunate immune characters.

I know I've moaned about it a lot, but The Stand is really worth a read, if only for the complete and utter epic scale it's on- it's also worth remembering that mine was a re-read of it, and so I did feel at some points that reading it at all was redundant since I had already gotten through it once (even though I didn't actually remember it...) The characters alone, however, are enough to make you stick with it, and once you've seen them survive the unsurvivable, you'll definitely want to know what happens to them afterwards, and before you know it, you'll have read 1400 pages of a story and wonder what the hell just happened. But you'll feel damn proud of yourself afterwards!


  1. The length of this alone is intimidating. I think it's an interesting premise and I love the characters he makes but I don't know that I'm going to be tackling this one anytime soon. Especially not if I go for his Dark Tower series, which looks epic enough...

  2. Yay for finally finishing The Stand. Super proud!! I picked up Pillars of the Earth and was super excited then realized that it's almost 1000 pages long. I think that's going to be my version of The Stand.

  3. @red- omg, you MUST read the dark tower series, it's just too awesome for words... Except possibly the 4th book- but never mind that! Hehe

    @Jenn- I will totally cheer on your epic read! You can do it if I can (twice) hehe

  4. I read this years ago and remember liking it! I've had it on my TBR pile to reread for about a year....must get to it!

  5. I really loved The Stand, but I read it in 8th grade, so it's probably about time for me to pick it up again and see if I'm still impressed.