Melissa's Reviews > The Stand

The Stand by Stephen King
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This book. Wow.

Ostensibly, I've read it over the last twelve days. Finishing it took over my life just a little, and I don't know how many nights I put it down and got to bed before 4am. Probably not many. It feels like I've been living with The Stand for much longer than that, though, and in another respect, I've really been reading it for almost three years. I made my first attempt at it in April 2009. At the time, IIRC, the only Stephen King books I'd read in full were Misery, Dolores Claiborne and Cell - the first two years beforehand, and all of them pamphlet length compared to the doorstop-sized Stand.

I've always had a taste for the apocalypse, and so the premise appealed greatly to me. The first chapter bore that out, but I hit a stumbling block with the introduction to Stu Redman. At the time, I just wasn't acclimatised to King's tendency to use twenty words where one would do, and by the time I fought my way through to meet Frannie Goldsmith on a pier in Maine, I was ready to give it up as a bad job.

Still, over the months that followed, my mind would turn back to it from time to time, and in November of that year I gave it another shot. I got a lot further that time around. Over the course of three or four months, dipping in and out, never reading for too long in order to savour every chapter, I eventually reached page 466, only just shy of finishing the first book, "Captain Trips". I can't really say why I never finished it from there. Mostly, it was never wanting the book to end. By then, I wasn't frazzled with Stu and Frannie, I loved them, and Larry Underwood and Nick Andros too. I wanted to feel that their world was there waiting any time I wanted to visit. The Stand was put to one side, and while I always kept it on my 'currently reading' list, I don't think I opened it once between February or March of 2010, and present.

One night a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't feeling great and couldn't sleep. Laying in bed, wide awake at 3am, I scanned my shelves for something to read, and paused on The Stand. The time felt right to give it another try. I was pretty confident that I could still pick up from where I'd left off, bookmarked just after Nick leaves Shoyo and before Larry awakens beyond the Lincoln Tunnel. But I thought back on those 466 pages, of seeing the world end over a couple of weeks from mid-June to early-July, and wanted to read it all over again. So I did. I re-met the old characters and fell in love with them all over again. And when I got to page 466, I kept on going, right through "Captain Trips", through "On The Border", "The Stand" and "The Circle Closes". It was exhausting, frequently frustrating, and I don't know that I'll ever have it in me to read it again, but I utterly loved it, and can happily say that this belongs on my favourites shelf.

All of this is not to say that The Stand is without flaws. I don't hold its length against it (though in the event of a future re-read, I'd plump for the original, rather than uncut edition). I think my first real discontent began with the introduction of Randall Flagg, the levitating, near-omniscient bad guy. I'm not keen on books that begin grounded in the real world, go on that way for hundreds of pages, and then throw in a surprise supernatural twist. I was even less keen when the emergence of Mother Abagail made plain that not only would the following events be strongly supernatural, they'd be driven by religion. Good v evil, God v devil. Not my cup of tea at all. Once it became clear that The Stand is very much a homage to Lord of The Rings (which, by great coincidence, is next on my re-read list), I could accept the supernatural elements and Flagg's all-seeing eye more easily. I never got so accustomed to the constant presence of God. When Larry went bravely into Vegas in the expectation that it was what God intended, and that He had something in motion that would come through... that was probably the pinnacle of my frustration, because I'm a cynical, pre-Mother Abagale Glen Bateman at heart.

Other things bothered me too. I was never all that interested in the antagonists, but might have been more so if "On the Border" hadn't been almost exclusively in the good guys' camp in Boulder, and "The Stand" with the bad guys in Vegas. I'd have liked a little more intermingling. The second book was my least favourite overall. The chapters were too long for my liking, the focus too squarely upon Stu, Frannie and Larry. Nick all but disappeared in this book, and I'd come to love him so in "Captain Trips". From reading King's On Writing last year, I knew about the bomb. I didn't know who would die, and for a chapter there I could hardly read on through fear. But afterwards... I didn't feel so much. I'd become emotionally disconnected from the lack of focus. It hurt more in "The Stand", when Nick came to Tom in dreams.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the women were mostly background characters, either weak or under developed or repulsive. King does this a lot. And then there was bloody Nadine, who was all of these and less. My least favourite character, without a doubt. The shift from when we met her, to our next encounter where she was CRAZY was just bizarre, and I could never but never empathise with her. There was Mother Abagale, yes, and I did enjoy her segments, but she was the utter embodiment of the "magical negro" trope. And as for the page where Frannie and Lucy sit sadly drinking tea while their men go bravely off to confront Flagg... oh my eyes about rolled out of my head. Two characters I would have loved to have seen more of were Susan Stern and Dayna Jurgens. Strong and brave and utterly badass, but with hardly ten pages of development between them. There was a much more fulfilling story there waiting to be told.

Then came the ending. After my second failed attempt at reading The Stand, I read a Goodreads review of it, so I knew one fact. (view spoiler) There were times that I was desperately sad and scared for him, but in the final confrontation and aftermath... again, I didn't feel so much. I genuinely thought this book was going to tear my heart out, stomp all over it and make me cry. The closest it ever came to doing that was when Stu broke his leg and sent the others off without him. I closed that chapter almost literally shaking with the unfairness of it all, but even then, there was some hope. There was Tom Cullen. Words cannot describe how much I love Tom Cullen. If I had to pick a favourite character, I think he would be it. And yes the final journey was protracted and slowed the pace down when we should have been racing for the finish, but despite that, despite all these gripes and complaints, I'm sat here the afternoon after finishing it reflecting on how satisfying it was, all told.

The Stand isn't a literary masterpiece. It isn't perfect, and maybe it was even better 400 pages lighter. But it is a bloody good book, one of my all-time favourites, and I'm so glad to have finally read it. In a way, it doesn't feel like I've sat in a recliner and read it for twelve days. It feels like I've been on a journey. Like an experience.

[Originally reviewed on 19 Jan 2012]
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Reading Progress

02/11 page 285
02/15 page 369
26.08% "I really loved the start of this book, but now that it's becoming more supernatural, I'm not so sure I like where it's going any more."
01/09 page 98
7.0% "Restarted this for the second time. Made it 466 pages in last time around, and could have picked up where I left off in 2010, but I loved those 466 pages so much that I want to read them all over again."
01/10 page 353
25.0% "Nearly caught up with where I got to before, and remembering why it started to annoy me. Books grounded in the real world that string you along for hundreds of pages before throwing out surprise!supernaturalness are irritating as heck."
01/10 page 444
31.0% "I love the chapters where King draws back from the main characters and gives us a glimpse of the havoc wreaked across the rest of the country."
01/11 page 530
37.0% "So happy the characters are finally meeting! Though the thought that I'd be half done if King hadn't added 400 pages back in is a wee bit tiring."
01/13 page 710
50.0% "Finally at the halfway point! I think I'm enjoying Book 2 a little less than Book 1, but the latter was SO good that's not much of a slight. Surprise!religion is about the only thing more annoying than surprise!supernatural, and the longer chapters make me miss the other characters, but overall I really do LOVE it. I'm so invested in Frannie, Stu, Larry and Nick, I dread to think of what might be in store from Flagg."
01/14 page 794
56.0% "A long stretch of less enjoyable stuff today. I'm just not all that interested in the antagonists..."
01/15 page 995
70.0% "Hardly put this down in my free time today. There are things that are bothering me - hardly any Nick in this stretch, King's perpetual lack of strong female characters, and bloody Nadine. At least Harold's motivation is clear and developed... Repulsive as he is, he's probably the only antagonist I give a damn about reading. All that said, I still love it, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't close to tears over Kojak."
01/16 page 1141
80.0% "End of Book 2. I feel like I should be more emotionally devastated than I actually am right now. I had an inkling of what was coming at the last committee meeting and expected to cry buckets, but the truth of it is, the character who died hardly featured in Book 2 at all. Really lessened the impact. And the fact that King's females characters are almost always non-existent, weak or repugnant is really ticking me off."
01/16 page 1230
86.0% "Liking Book 3 more than Book 2 already. I prefer the shorter chapters and wider spread of characters - Book 2 really turned into the Stu, Frannie and Larry show for a looong time. Right now I absolutely love Tom Cullen, and really wish Dayna Jurgens had got more page time. What a badass."
01/27 marked as: currently-reading
01/27 page 0
0.0% "There's something about feeling like death that puts me in a mood for the end of the world."
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Fiona I loved this book too - so far it is my first and only King. I got about 1000 pages into IT before I gave it up 300 pages from the end.

I agree with all your criticisms - I think I'd have much preferred to read the uncut version. I really didn't like that idiot Trash character, did not get the point. And I wasn't so keen on the supernatural side of it, yet I still found myself really enjoying it despite the weaknesses and the rather drawn out, crappy ending.

Melissa Oh dear, that's IT well and truly bumped down my to-read list!

Does the original edition of The Stand include a version of the Trash-reaches-Vegas chapter in Book 2? It's painfully long in my copy, but there's a character in there that was cut from the original, and I wound up almost pitying Trash by the end of their encounter. I'm so curious about what else was cut out.

And ugh, yes, that ending. I think I read that the uncut edition has an extra chapter at the end, and if that's true, it makes it even worse IMO. I don't want to say too much in case you plan on reading it some day!

Fiona Sorry - I meant I'd have rather read the cut/original version as well. My stupid brain hasn't been functioning properly lately with lack of sleep.

I've been kinda scared to read King since IT (scared for all the wrong reasons!) I should probably try one that isn't quite so long. I own about 15 of his books since loving The Stand so, I really ought to try reading one.

Melissa Ooh, I've just had a browse through your shelves and seen Different Seasons listed - I'd definitely give that one a try. "Apt Pupil" and "The Body" are two of my favourites by King... "Shawshank Redemption" is one of the rare cases where the film outshines the book, and "The Breathing Method" isn't much to get excited about, but I think the middle two are some of his best ever writing. And eh, if you hate them, at least they're only novella length :)

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