I have a confession. I _didn’t_ read the Stand in the last week.
However, I feel eminently qualified to talk about it here, as I have read it at least 12 times in my lifetime. You tend to remember a lot about a book when you read it that many times. Yes, it is a favorite. I read it for the first time at 12 years old and probably read it last a year or two ago.
Apparently David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner also felt it was worth it. They listed it in their top ten. They might have read it 12 or more times too but maybe not.
I was ecstatic that at least one of King’s books made it in this book. I personally think The Shining should have also been in here, but eh, I wasn’t asked for my top ten.
Today, I will be covering three areas. My prior debate partners will be thrilled I’m sure at the three areas and my forecasting of them. First, I will cover The Stand itself and a couple of brief notes on the mini series made from the book. Secondly, I will cover why I personally feel this is some of the best apocalypse literature out there. Finally, I will cover people’s misconceptions about Stephen King and people’s close minded views on him and his career.
First thing about The Stand. It is long. I don’t think it’s quite as long as Les Miserables, but it might be. However, it is infinitely easier to read. There are no sections on The Battle of Waterloo for the sole purpose of using the last two lines to introduce characters. There are no sections on argot. King isn’t interested in making long, involved meanderings from the narrative to make comments on poverty.
King covers a few different main characters from start to finish. King describes the characters, not by description per se, but by narrative involving them. For instance, Stu, one of the main characters is in a gas station in a small Texas town in the beginning. King manages to give you more about his character by showing his reaction to a car plowing into a pump than by the description of him. Larry, another main character, has a hit that climbs the charts (he’s a musician). King shows his downward spiral as he throws the longest and hugest party in a long time. King shows his character by describing his walk onto a beach with an acquaintance who wants to give him the hard truth, then his resulting actions, and his arrival back in New York City and his mother. He describes Fran, by showing her reaction to a pregnancy and a confrontation with her mother. He describes Harold, a neighbor of Fran’s by the clothes he wears, the language he uses, his actions of resourcefulness. He describes Nick, a deaf-mute by the beating and resultant jailing and resultant friendship with the sheriff, more than by his descriptive words of him. This is one of the things I love about King, he may use a lot of words, but in the end you feel you know the characters almost or better than you know yourself. The story is about what happens when the government accidentally releases a “super-flu” with a 99% transmission rate and a 100% fatality rate. The flu works by constantly shifting. Like if you have the influenza virus, your body creates antibodies to fight it. The super-flu works by constantly shifting antigens, basically the type of flu you have. King describes the trail of the beginning of transmission, which I always have felt is neat. He describes different people as they contract it and die from it. The main characters (of which I only listed a few) all are immune, as you might have guessed. At the beginning, before they too are infected, the government does try to find a vaccine (because apparently they weren’t smart enough to have developed it to keep themselves safe) by taking people from Stu’s town to isolate them, then figure out why Stu doesn’t have it. Eventually, all of the people are dead except those that were immune. King then takes a few pages to describe the people that die from a second wave of events, like a child falling in a well, a woman firing an old gun that backfires and kills her, a man jogging himself to death due to grief. The next section of the book describes them making their way across the country (the survivors). They have been having two dreams, one of an old black woman in Nebraska and one of the “dark man” or Randall Flagg. The black woman represents security, goodness. The dark man, terror. They eventually find Abigail Freemantle, a prophet and seer, who says she has dreams to go to Boulder Colorado. In the panicked days, a rumor had started that the flu was originating from a source in the city. There was a mass exodus, leaving the city strangely empty. They settle there, survivors keep trickling in. They implement a government of sorts. Then the battle of good versus evil (side of Abigail vs. the side of Flagg) begins. This is where I will end, in order not to spoil the ending.
I believe this to be one of the great apocalypse stories for a couple of different reasons. Unlike a nuclear apocalypse, King derived a way to keep the world intact, if empty of people. King also describes in great detail the things that the survivors do, like canned food, siphoning gas, etc. etc. I love how he describes both during and after. I always think apocalypse stories leave too much out. It’s probably why I like The Walking Dead so much too. He does have characters die during the story, but it fits in perfectly into the story he weaves. I can’t think of any other concrete reasons I can put down here. I have read a lot of apocalypse stories and this one remains my favorite.
Finally, I get tired of people’s misconceptions and refusal of Stephen King. There are those that refuse to read him since he got away from the bloody horror stuff. I know, I know, there are probably straight genre readers of horror and King’s genre readers didn’t like where he has gone. However, if they bothered to read, they would find many of his stories still carry a tone of horror, a tone of the supernatural. Many people like this stopped reading way before Bag of Bones, one of King’s greatest horror stories in my opinion. And they refuse to read it.
Then there are those that stopped reading after Gerald’s Game or some other book that they didn’t like. Um, the man has written around 68 books as of 2013. I’m sure that anyone that had written that many (that wasn’t a franchise writer such as Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts who like to put the same character types in a different setting while trying to tell the same story) would have a dud or two. I’m sure most of those that stopped reading have never written a thing on their own, so a judgment based on one book they didn’t like is asinine. I personally disliked The Tommyknockers when I read it, and it was published in the mid 80s. I still disliked it when I reread it in 2012. However, there are many of those 68 books written since then that I have adored. Bag of Bones and Duma Key to name just two. So I urge those of you that gave up on King after one book you disliked to try again. You might rediscover an author you previously loved.
I also want to address those “literary” types. King has been criticized his entire career by critics, by other authors and by those readers that read a book because it makes them look intelligent. Again, the man has written 68 original books (each story is different and unique, not formulaic at all), have any of those people done that? I think a little bit of it is jealousy. There seems to be a prejudice against an author that makes a ton of money and sells a lot of books. Maybe they believe that only books that sell limited copies and make limited amounts are good, as your average reader doesn’t like great works of literary fiction. King has won a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American letters. Here is a list of the number of awards King has won since his career began. It might be time for people to suck it up and read one of his books.
King tells a good story. That is his main goal. And that is what he achieves in most of those 68 books. If you dislike horror, guts and gruesomeness, read his later works. Some of them are almost not even close to horror. If you like blood and guts, read the earlier books, then read the rest.
If you want to read what King himself thinks of “literary” types, read the introduction of Full Dark, No Stars. Which by the way has some very non horror fiction in it.
Thanks for listening to my rant 🙂 As you can tell, King ranks up there on favorite authors for me. I grew up with him. Well he was already an adult of course. I read my first King novel, Firestarter at 10. I’ve been reading him since. I have re-read a lot of his books. I read them so fast the first time that I want to find the things I missed. And they are just as good as the first time. Also, another note, King always, always makes sure his novels are unabridged when put on audio format. He also reads Bag of Bones himself, which is amazing. He finds the best audio book narrators. If you don’t feel like reading one of his books, pick one up and listen.
Ok. The end.