Let me start by saying I think The Stand should come with a badge or a pin that you can carry around triumphantly once you have completed. Nothing fancy, just a simple I finished The Stand and survived or something otherwise catchy. At a whopping 1152 pages, a badge is in order.
Originally published in 1978, the novel was cut by the publishers by about four hundred pages in order to market better. In 1990, King added the previously cut pages while updating the original text, leaving the readers with a mega novel of over eleven hundred pages.
The Stand is a post-apocalyptic novel in which the world as we know it ends in the blink of an eye. A virus, Captain Tripps as it is called in the novel, wreaks havoc on the world in the split second it takes an army worker to escape base and make a run for it. Though the army tries to contain the virus, it spreads too rapidly to contain and in a matter of weeks, the world’s population is left in tatters.
What’s left of the people of the United States, as they emerge from the wreckage and realize the magnitude of death and destruction begin to have dreams; they dream of an old woman who brings comfort and a dark man who brings terror. Those left begin to emerge from houses and towns and make pilgrimage; they find other souls and head towards the light or the dark.
When I used to think of Stephen King, I thought scary horror novels, and while I would still say that is true, the essence of The Stand is human nature, the powers of good and evil and man’s ever lustful need to play god and while not a horror novel per say, what makes The Stand so bone chilling is the knowledge that it’s not so unrealistic. A super flu that knocks out 99% of the United States’ population, a man-made flu created as a biological weapon to use against enemy forces.
There are parts that will revolt you but then you realize that what is at the core of The Stand is a yearning to survive. It’s human nature at its worst and human nature at its best. But there are clear-cut sides to this. In The Stand those that are weak in spirit are shelved off to the dark side with no chance of redemption. The God in The Stand is the God of the Old-Testament, he is a harsh God that expects sacrifice and loyalty at all times.
What King excels at in his novels is the characterization. King is able to create a wonderful array of characters, from evil villains to average joe’s to somewhere in between and give all of them life. Life filled with detailed pasts and colorful futures to say the least.
I loved the characters I was supposed to love, Frannie and Stu being my favorite but Nick, Tom and Glen were closely followed. I hated Trashcan Man and The Kid, I was going to scream if I heard one more “how do you like that happy crappy”, so I felt no great loss at The Kid’s departure. Although Larry was supposed to be redeemable and he was, I just never connected to him and didn’t care about his story as much as others.
Parts of the novel droned on and I sluggishly plowed on, determined to finish at times. I actually put this aside for a few months and just picked it up again recently. I really hated the Trashcan Man’s trek to Las Vegas and couldn’t get through it fast enough. Other parts, such as Stu’s trek were longwinded and a little tedious.
The novel builds up to a final stand between the forces of good and evil after the superflu. I expected more of a showdown and what actually happened was anti-climactic and left me very disappointed.
While I enjoyed The Stand and I feel it’s a book that should be read at least once, there are others I have enjoyed more. 11/22/63 will always stand out as the best King book I’ve read followed by The Shining. If you decide to give The Stand a try, don’t be intimidated by its massive size, most of the book flies by, just opt for the paperback, the hardback may break your wrist.