How does one even begin talking about The Stand, Stephen King's masterpiece? Since its publication in 1978 and re-release (with over 400 pages of originally deleted material added back in) in 1990, countless reviews and articles have been written about King's self-proclaimed "long, dark tale of Christianity." There isn't much that's new to say about it, but I'll give you guys some of my own thoughts and opinions on this mammoth of a book, anyway. Seriously -- this sucker took me over three weeks to read! Granted, I've been busy and can usually finish this one up in a week or so... but still, it's long. Almost 1200 pages long. Oh boy.
In many ways, The Stand was a landmark book for King. It was his last novel with Doubleday. It stretched the limit of what his readers could handle, page number wise (again, there was over 400 pages worth of stuff that was cut from the original to keep book production costs down). King took the excellent character work from The Shining and the ability to write a large cast of characters, a'la 'Salem's Lot and put them together to help create The Stand -- a novel that covers several states across America as well as many, many people therein. Often King has described the writing of this book to be his own personal Vietnam -- a struggle that he sometimes hated, but could never sem to finish. It's perhaps King's most intricate work with his largest cast of characters to date, all written before the man even turned 30.
In short, it's a long novel about a government-created super-flu that gets leaked and wipes out 99.4% of the world's population. The survivors are left and must pick up the pieces. They must recreate society. In long, this is a story about psychology, science, and Christianity, and how the three sometimes come together as well as oppose one another. The highlight of the book is, of course, the characters. There is Stu Redman, a macho but kind-hearted Texan; Frannie, a young, expecting mother from Maine; Harold Lauder, the only other survivor from Frannie's hometown; Larry Underwood, famous rock and roll singer; Randall Flagg, a demon, or perhaps legion; Mother Abagail, Flagg's "opposite number"; Glen Bateman, college professor; etc. etc. etc. The list goes on, and each character is as memorable and well-drawn as the last. Perhaps that is King's greatest feat here -- these characters feel so alive, and only become more real with each scene they're in. The readers feels as though he or she is inside each one's head, and because they are so human-like, they are often prismatic -- I see some characters differently with each reread, which is a sign of a great author. Sometimes I support Frannie blaming her pregnancy on her boyfriend Jess Rider, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I feel sympathy for Harold in the end, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I feel like Larry really "ain't no nice guy," and sometimes, I think he's completely justified in his actions. That is why i come to this story again and again, without hesitation -- it's a different plague-ridden world every time I enter, and that is a wonderful thing.
As I've said a couple of times already, this is a long book. King fills the reader in on everything -- relevant to the story or otherwise. He wants to truly take his reader on this journey into the darkness, into the mad psychology of the human condition, and for that I am thankful. This isn't a book for the impatient or those who like to pigeonhole King. There is a lot of horror here, but he, at least, shakes hands with every other genre, too. It's a world-crossing, world-building adventure, and the ninth time was just as good -- heck, it was even better -- than the first.
- This book has obvious ties to the Dark Tower series, such as the gang finding a newspaper with a story about the superflu in Wizard and Glass and Randall Flagg being the Man in Black.
- At one point Frannie reads a novel by the "Western writer up in Haven," i.e. Roberta Anderson from The Tommyknockers
- The Shop -- of Firestarter and "The Mist" fame -- is mentioned at one point as being the possible cause of the superflu
“Show me a man or a woman alone and I'll show you a saint. Give me two and they'll fall in love. Give me three and they'll invent the charming thing we call 'society'. Give me four and they'll build a pyramid. Give me five and they'll make one an outcast. Give me six and they'll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they'll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
- Glen Bateman
There are so many, but I think I'll go with Larry Underwood traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel. Or maybe the feeling of everything "going bad" in Las Vegas -- those passages are powerful, powerful stuff. Or heck, the entire first third is gold. Obviously, the book is simply filled with great scenes!
We're going the distance -- it's The Long Walk!