The Stand

As I mentioned in my review of It a little over a year ago, I was a huge Stephen King fan during my teenage years. Throughout the 80s, I devoured novels such as Carrie, The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, Christine, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and many more. I first read The Stand in 1986 or 1987 and I loved it. And prior to my It reread, I considered The Stand to be the very best Stephen King title out there. That reread put It back into pole position and I was curious to see if rereading The Stand would push it back to the top of the totem pole. It sure did!

As I've said before, rereading old favorites always comes with a certain sense of apprehension for me. Not every book age well and like It I was wondering if The Stand had survived the test of time. This time I read the complete and uncut edition, which contains restored scenes originally cut for brevity, added and revised certain sections, and changed the setting to 1990. Oddly enough, though the novel features quite a few memorable sequences, I had forgotten pretty much everything that has to do about the plot. In the end, there were only two totally innocuous scenes that I could recall; the one in which Fran tells Stu that there are occasional skid marks on his underwear, and the one in which Nadine gives Harold a handjob. Don't ask me why, but these were the only two scenes that stayed with me over the years. It probably doesn't speak well of me, but keep in mind that I was about 13 years old when I first read the book.

Rereading The Stand after all these years was an awesome experience. As was the case with It a few months back, the novel captured my imagination and grabbed hold of me from the very beginning and I found myself going through this 1400+-page doorstopper in just a few days.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.

The book is split into three parts. The first one, titled "Captain Trips," takes place between June 16th and July 4th and focuses on the total breakdown and inexorable collapse of society in the wake of the terrible pandemic triggered by the accidental release of a weaponized strain of influenza known as Project Blue from a secret military laboratory. The narrative features the perspectives of most of the principal protagonists as social order keeps unraveling and they must deal with the emotional impact of witnessing everyone they know dying of the superflu. This portion also shows just how heavy-handed the US military were in their efforts to censor information and in their attempts to contain the threat that brought mankind to near-extinction. The second part is called "On the Border" and occurs between July 5th and September 6th. It focuses on the few survivors gradually finding one another and journeying across the country. Some of them following the dreams of 108-year-old Mother Abagail, who can be found in her home surrounded by corn fields in Nebraska. Others are drawn toward Las Vegas, where the nefarious Randall Flagg has set up shop and is preparing to take over the USA and then the rest of the world. These first two parts are absolutely amazing and just might be Stephen King's best writing ever. I was thoroughly enthralled by this 1150+-page chunk of narrative and to this day it remains some of the most incredible storytelling I have ever read. The last section, "The Stand," takes place from September 7th to January 10th and focuses on the clash between the two communities. The author has always had trouble with endings and this novel is no different. Although the build-up to the endgame was great, the grand finale and its resolution failed to live up to the potential shown earlier. Still, The Stand is a home run. But it could easily have been a grand slam.

The book was originally published in 1978, with a setting date of 1980. The first paperback edition released in 1980 changed the setting date to 1985. And when it was re-released as The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, the setting of the story was once again pushed back to 1990. King updated the novel and added a number of pop culture references. For the most part, this latest edition has aged well. But moving the timeline forward like that created a certain amount of anachronisms that sometimes feel rather weird. Overall, The Stand retains that late 70s vibe which should have been left alone, methinks. These anachronisms don't take anything away from the overall reading experience, but they can feel a bit discordant at times.

The characterization is by far the most astonishing facet of the book. I know I said the same regarding It, but this one definitely features what could well be the very best character development of King's career. A more interesting bunch of characters I'd be hard-pressed to name. There is so much character growth throughout The Stand, so many memorable protagonists. My heart went out to Nick Andros and Tom Cullen, a more unlikely duo you can never hope to find. Sure, men and women like Larry Underwood, Stu Redman, Frances Goldsmith, Harold Lauder, Lloyd Henreid, and the Trashcan Man take center stage throughout the tale, but the supporting cast is what makes this work such an unforgettable read. Other than Nick and Tom, The Stand would never have been the same without Glen Bateman and his dog Kojak, Ralph Brentner, Nadine Cross, and young Joe.

The Stand is another enormous work of fiction. There is no getting around that. Made even bigger with this complete and uncut edition. Understandably, such a big novel will occasionally suffer from rhythm problems. And while it's true that at times the pace can be slow, The Stand is never boring. Other than the addition of the Kid section, that is, which I feel was unnecessary. I found the Trashcan Man's journey to Las Vegas to be quite compelling, but in my opinion the Kid's storyline added very little to the overall reading experience. Regardless of the slow-moving portions which add layers to an already multi-layered plot for the most part, I went though this book in a matter of a few short days, and for me the rhythm was never an issue.

Read The Stand for the first time, or reread it again! Like It, this novel showcases a Stephen King writing at the top of his game and is a extraordinary read. M-O-O-N, that spells awesome! Laws, yes!

The final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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