apocalyptic masterpiece of modern literature *****
The Stand, in my opinion, marks Stephen King's progression from horror to
literature. Consistently voted fans' favorite King novel ever since its
initial publication in 1978 (although I personally consider the novel It
his finest work), The Stand delivers an archetypal conflict pitting good
against evil against a backdrop of civilization itself. In this
extraordinary novel, King fully unleashes the horrors previously contained
in the microcosms of an extraordinary person (Carrie), a single town
('Salem's Lot), and a haunted hotel far removed from civilization (The
This is how the world ends: with a human-engineered superflu which escapes
containment in the form of a terrified guard who unwittingly spreads death
over a wide swath of southwestern America in his bid to escape infection.
Captain Trips, they call it - until they die, and people die in droves
within a matter of days. In almost no time at all, well over 99% of the
American population have suffered an agonizing death. Those that are left
all alone begin to dream: comforting visions of an ancient black lady
called Mother Abigail in Nebraska rising up alongside nightmares of a
faceless man out west. Many find their way to Las Vegas to serve under
Randall Flag, the Walking Dude of their night visions, but many others
flock to Mother Abigail in Nebraska and eventually Boulder, Colorado. As
the citizens of the Boulder Free Zone attempt to reform society and make a
new life for themselves, they are forced to come to terms with the fact
that they are caught up in a struggle defined by their spiritual leader in
religious terms. They must destroy Flagg or be destroyed by him - in a
word, they must make their stand.
I could not begin to describe the dozens of richly drawn characters King
gives life to in these pages. They are ordinary people called to do
extraordinary things in a world reeking of death and fear. Some are not up
to the challenge, and betrayal has awful consequences in this new reality
- to the betrayer as well as the betrayed. These are real human beings,
flaws and all; there is good to be found even among those serving the
greatest of evils, and at the same time, the good guys don't always behave
in ways you think they should. Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Larry Underwood,
Glen Bateman, Stu Redman, Harold Lauder, Mother Abigail, Tom Cullen,
Randall Flagg, Trash Can Man - these are characters you will never forget.
I must admit the climax of the great struggle just doesn't seem to be all
it might be, but the first 1000 pages of this novel are so good that even
Stephen King could hardly be expected to top what he had already
accomplished in the framing of this ultimate conflict.
I find it slightly odd that religion plays such a small part in this
visionary apocalypse. As far as Mother Abigail and, eventually, the
novel's heroes are concerned, this is a religious fight between the imps
of Satan and the servants of God, but you won't find any theology apart
from a few misplaced references to Revelations by frightened characters,
and no preacher of any faith seems to have survived the superflu outbreak
I wouldn't call this a scary novel, but it certainly does have its moments
- best exemplified by one character's journey through a dark tunnel
surrounded by invisible but very dead and decaying bodies caught in an
eternal traffic jam. The real horror, of course, is the all-pervasive
atmosphere of a world decimated by man's self-imposed destruction. Death
is literally everywhere these characters turn - in the silent houses and
cars all around them, in the streets upon which they travel, in the
terrifying nightmares they have of the Walking Dude, and even in the
future they try to avoid thinking about, as no one knows whether the
superflu will kill the children yet to be born. I found the sections
dealing with the reconstitution of a society of some sort to be the most
interesting aspect of the novel - will it be like the old society, will it
repeat the mistakes of the last one, etc. This is also a story of personal
redemption, as the novels' heroes must overcome their pasts and/or their
human weaknesses and handicaps in order to make their stand. When the
deaf-mute Nick tells Mother Abigail that he does not believe in God, she
tells him that it doesn't matter because God believes in him - that is a
truly empowering message.
There is an intriguing philosophical undercurrent to this novel that
applies both eloquently and meaningfully to the human condition. The Stand
is modern literature, a direct descendant of such epics as The Iliad and
The Odyssey, and you will learn something about yourself when you read
this masterpiece of contemporary literature.
Great Beginning, Mediocre Middle, Disappointing End ***
First of all I should preface this by saying this was the first Stephen King
book I have ever read, and how I got to it is a story within itself. I am a high
school history teacher, and one day back in November I was waiting on my
students to gather their things, to leave our school's library. As I was waiting
I noticed the book and picked it up to read the back cover. Needless to say I
found a picture of the author instead. As I waited I started to read throught
King's intro to the book, and became increasingly interested in what was inside.
For whatever reason I had carried the book out of the library with me and at the
end of the day, seeing it on my desk I started to read.
Needless to say I was hooked instantly. For years I had heard how long winded
King's novels were and this is what had kept me away from his works, and as I
discovered he is long winded and wordy, but that isn't a bad thing.
So my review, easily the first 400 or so pages of the book is some of the finest
writing I have ever read. His attention to detail and the way King sets us up by
describing the carnage caused by the "super flu" is second to none. In
describing the decimation of the United States, King is all the while
introducing us to characters, that while we don't know it early in the book, the
reader will come to feel attached too.
Unfortunately after such a rousing start, I felt that for the next 300 pages the
slowed down considerably, to the point where it became a struggle plow through
the book. Where as the begining book was long winded and painted an epic
picture, the long windedness of the middle 300 pages, seemed to drag. While I
knew Mother Abigail to be a critical character, I felt no connection to her, and
really could have cared less about her history.
Finally around page 700, the book kicks back into high gear as King starts to
set us up for the final battle between good and evil. The problem with this is
that King does such a good job setting up the battle, that the author just can't
deliver on the suspense that he has built. Ultimately I was let down, by the
climax, feeling as if, the ultimate battle between good and evil, went out with
a wimper instead of a bang.
After being letdown by the battle, the book lost my interest in the final 70
pages, as I was still feeling the disappointment of the battle between good and
evil. Overall, it was a good read and I would be interested to see King revisit
these characters, since he left it wide open for a sequel. However, the ending
didn't live up to the greatness of the beginning.
Shepard "Invicta Fan"