The Stand

by Stephen King

  General / Favorable Reviews
  Critical Reviews

 King's 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 Shining).

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 itself.

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.

David Jolley "darkgenius"



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.

Scott Shepard "Invicta Fan"






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