By: Kyle Grubb
“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.”
With the first upload week of All: In Review fully underway, I was racking my brain for great choices to review so as to start out each category with a bang. Just like with Suikoden II, I wanted to find something that had an impact on my childhood. For Books, this was actually a pretty easy choice. It is also oddly relevant; it seems like a movie adaptation of The Stand is actually on its way after years and years of discussion. With this news, I figured I might as well launch into my review of one of my favorite novels of all time.
It’s very important to note that this review is based on the Complete and Uncut Edition of The Stand. With an extra 400 or so pages fleshing out many of the characters and providing depth to the story, this version is, in my opinion, the infinitely superior experience. Yeah, it’s long though. This edition clocks in at over 1100 pages, so be warned.
For most of my young life, my mother had a collection of books that my infantile mind chronicled as “Mom’s Really Big Books”. They sat in a bookcase, and all of them were hardcover books that were over 600 pages or so. I was always a big reader, but usually stuck to the kinds of books that were intended for my age. Somewhere in middle school, though, my eyes kept turning to those books more and more. I’ve always enjoyed a fun challenge, and because of that, I was immediately drawn to Stephen King’s The Stand. It was the largest book in the collection by a decent margin, clocking in at 1152 pages. I had never even thought of trying to read a book of that size before, but I just couldn’t resist. I took it from the bookshelf and started plugging away.
I had never read Stephen King before, and his writing style was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I remember my mother saying that I was probably too young to read it, but she never forced me to put it down. And I didn’t put it down. I read through that whole book in probably two weeks, taking it with me to school and reading every chance I got. It was a world I had never experienced before, and it turned me into quite the little Stephen King fanboy. At that age, I had seen plenty of horror movies or other films full of violence, but it was something about reading it on a page that made it feel more real. That may sound odd, but, to be fair, I was an odd kid. I’m still odd, actually.
The Stand, as I said, introduced me to Stephen King. I read Salem’s Lot, It, The Talisman, Carrie… really, I just read anything by him I could get my hands on. I couldn’t get enough. The Stand also led to me reading one of my favorite book series of all time, The Dark Tower. This book was probably my first true step into more mature fiction, and as such it will always hold a place in my heart.
Sometimes, all it takes to bring the world to its knees is the desire to protect the people you love. A soldier, trying to protect his wife and daughter, spirits his family away from the military base where he is assigned. Unfortunately, the three unwittingly have with them another passenger: a weapon that threatens to destroy mankind as we know it.
Originally written in 1978 and updated in 1990, The Stand is a post-apocalyptic novel written by Stephen King. It tells the story of a large ensemble of characters who survive a deadly disease that wipes out most of humanity. As these people attempt to rebuild society, they are split into two groups: some are drawn to Mother Abigail in Colorado, and others to Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. As these two societies grow, though, it becomes clear that only one can survive, and as Flagg’s eyes turn East, a battle between Good and Evil will decide the fate of the last remaining fragments of humanity.
Containing elements of both Horror and Fantasy, The Stand is a truly Epic tale. Within The Stand, both Good and Evil are actual forces given physical representation in the forms of Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg, respectively. Abigail builds the Free Zone in Boulder, Colorado, and draws those who are Good of heart to her. A woman of over 100 years of age, she is wise and kind, though not without fault. Opposite her is Flagg, widely viewed as one of King’s greatest antagonists. Donned in a sweatshirt and jeans, he’s a demon that is all affability and charm until he finds the weakness in a person’s heart.
Drawn to these two figures is a fantastic array of memorable and interesting characters, many of which going down as some of my personal favorites that King has ever dreamed up. These characters include Nick Andros, the deaf-mute with a strong mind and a good heart; Tom Cullen, a forty-year-old man with mental retardation who can tap into a power few people can; Harold Lauder, an obnoxious teenager who could touch greatness if he can let go of his hatred; Lloyd Henreid, a killer gifted with the useful ability to anticipate problems; and Trashcan Man, a schizophrenic with the chance to burn the world down around him. Watching as King sets all of these characters on a collision course is one of the most enthralling parts of the whole book. Every character is well written and flawed, and most have depths that you wouldn’t expect. Long after the book is done, many of these characters will stay with you.
If you’ve ever read a book by Stephen King, you already have a good hold on his writing style. King has always written with what I view as the perfect presentation of detail. Whereas many authors could spend paragraphs describing every detail of a person or the surrounding environment, King is strategic; every single word, every phrase or statement, speaks more than the sum of its parts. He paints a picture with concepts and ideas that we already know, and as such is able to be sparse without sacrificing vision. He has an understanding of pace, and not only of the pacing of a novel in the macro sense, but also of the micro. Each scene has a flow. This natural rhythm keeps readers drawn in even during the slower parts of the book. Never once when reading was I ever bored, or finding myself checking a clock. Pages seemed to flow by, and as daunting as the book is to behold, once you dive into it you find that the novel itself helps manage your apprehension of its size. Dialogue, as well, is usually sharp and quick. King’s characters usually have a slightly heightened sense of speech, sometimes feeling as if their words are being overseen, but in The Stand it hardly draws attention; reality in this world already has a heightened feel to it, and this perfectly on-point dialogue comes to feel like the only way of speaking that would be appropriate.
The plot of the book is split up into three separate sections, each like a small book of their own. In many ways, it could be easy to look at The Stand as a trilogy bound together into a single novel. Watching as the characters evolve is entertaining throughout, as I said, but it’s also great to watch as this grand tale begins to truly reveal itself in whole. As all of the pieces begin to fit together, and many of the small gestures made earlier in the book come to bear fruit in the later pages, I found myself staring in wonder at the book in front of me. It isn’t the kind of writing that relies on a huge plot twist or surprising development to drag the reader in. Instead it shows its hand early, and lets you marvel as all the plotlines, characters, and motivations pay off in ways that reward a dedicated and focused participant.
I could write praise about this book all day, and it is very likely I’m biased toward it. I never claim to be unbiased. That’s kinda against the whole point of this site. Right now, early on, I’m here to look at things in my life that have affected me one way or the other. All of these coming reviews are almost guaranteed to be biased. Honestly, I’m completely fine with that. To me, The Stand is a classic Epic. It has the feeling of a grand fantasy novel all wrapped up into a post-apocalyptic survival story. Like many of the best books, it uses its setting and plot to examine people, people from all walks of life. You watch as these characters struggle not just to survive, but find meaning in their new lives, and you can empathize with them. Randall Flagg is, in my opinion, one of fiction’s great villains. You can feel the unnatural power crackling off of him as his plans slowly unfold, and every word of his can keep you standing on edge, eager to turn the page to see what may happen next. The entire book is like that, though. I’ve found that it’s hard to put The Stand down once you start, and nearly everyone I know that’s read the book agrees with me: it’s a journey you go on with its characters, and it isn’t one you’re likely to forget until long after you’ve read the powerful and chilling epilogue.