Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Great THE STAND Epic Read: Wrap-Up

It took me four months to read THE STAND, longer than it's taken me to read any other book. Then again, I don't think I've ever read a book as long as THE STAND. The next runner-up for length is probably THE MISTS OF AVALON, which I read when I was 19, and even allowing for its oversized pages still only clocks in at just shy of 900 pages - and that took me just two months to read. So, THE STAND was a huge commitment for me. I knew it going in, but I also knew I was going to finish the book no matter how long it took me to read. I read the "Complete and Uncut" version, which a friend suggested.

The god-awful (pun intended) cover of the version I read.

If I had had nothing but downtime, sure, I probably could have breezed through it in a couple of months. If I were still working outside the home and had 30-90 minutes of commute time on the subway every day, it would have gone much faster. But I'm a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and writer, with two little ones, and was lucky if I got to read for 10 minutes every day. This isn't an excuse, because I still think four months is pretty good for a 1200+ page book, I'm just saying.



Most of the book I really enjoyed. I would not have been able to stick with it if I didn't like the story. Even knowing most of the plot points and the ending, from having seen the 1994 mini-series, I still liked the story. Call me morbid, call me pessimistic, call me cynical (and my husband has called me all three of those at one point or another), but I'm a gal who enjoys a well-told end-of-the-world yarn. I liked the idea of this particular end of the world coming about as a result of a simple government oversight: the lag time for the lockdown of a top-secret facility in which they are creating a deadly superflu. That's all it takes, and weeks later 99% of the world's population are goners.

The rest of the book chronicles what the survivors do: how they meet up, move on, the prophetic dreams they start having that compel them to either Mother Abigail in Nebraska (then Boulder), or to Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. As the post-superflu days in the book start to become weeks, the survivors realize they are being given a choice to side with either the "good" guys in Boulder or the "bad" guys in Vegas.

If you haven't seen the miniseries yet, I
have two words for you: Gary Sinise. You're

Where Stephen King excels is in building complex, deeply sympathetic characters. Even two of the "bad" guys in THE STAND -- Lloyd Henried and Trashcan Man -- are given the chance to reveal their pasts, their weaknesses, their incredibly flawed and pitiful human sides. Only King can make you root for the bad guys the way he does during Lloyd's starvation scene or Trash's pyromaniac scenes. In "On Writing," King mentions having been forced to cut hundreds of pages from THE STAND for its original publication, including some of Trash's background. I honestly can't imagine reading the book without Trash's backstory; it adds a level of complexity to that character so deep and sorrowful that you almost cry for him. For me, every moment spent among the "bad guys" - even Flagg - is a study in the greyer, more interesting, areas of human nature and the myth of real, pure, evil. I also had been wondering about children in the "bad" Las Vegas group, and would have liked more of a chance to explore how those kids got there.

I would have loved it if the book did spend more time in Las Vegas overall. I found some of the scenes in Boulder to be excruciatingly long and pointless. I certainly did not need the minutes from the council meetings, or most of the domestic scenes between Stu and Franny. As a writer I can almost understand why King may have put those in there: possibly to lull the audience into the same sense of anticipation and passage of time that was going on for the characters. And I did appreciate the debates about whether or not to send spies, and who to send, and the scenes between Harold and Nadine once they hooked up. Honestly, though, from the time the group gets to Boulder to the time they send Larry, Glen, Stu and Ralph to Las Vegas, could have been cut by quite a lot. Same with Stu and Tom's journey back to Boulder: I get that there's a certain white-knuckle quality to rooting for those two to make it back, but after a while white-knuckle gets exhausting and you just want things to move on. At least, I did.

This cover is, like, a bajillionty
times better than the new cover.
Maybe more.

Aside from those parts, and a few minor info dumps that could have been taken out (like Nadine's entire realization that she is to go to Flagg), it's an oddly quick read for such a big book. That is, the length of time it takes to read THE STAND is in perfect proportion with how many pages it is. It's not difficult reading, it's not touchy subject matter. It's straightforward and fairly mild (for King), with most of the scary stuff being implied and of the raised-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck variety. Not a lot of gore here, no monsters (except Flagg, who is less of a monster and more of a creep), no boogeymen jumping out at you. It's well-though out, which I always appreciate in a book. There's a slight deus-ex-machina quality at the end, but I can forgive that because, honestly, how else would you end an epic like this? With the way King has his characters set up, there was just no way the "good" guys could have actually fought and defeated the "bad" guys without becoming exactly that which made the "bad" guys, well, bad. Sometimes good guys can fight and still be the good guys; not in this case. It ended the way it needed to end.

I'm glad I read it, and I do highly recommend it - especially if you have more free time than I have.


  1. Okay, I skipped over most of this because I haven't read The Stand, yet. Twelve hundred words is a pretty massive commitment, is it worth it?

  2. Definitely worth it. It drags in parts, which is to be expected with a book of this length: not all the scenes can be riveting. But there's enough going on to make the whole read worth the time it will take to get through it. Go for it!