Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Stand, a Review

Some folks say that The Stand is Stephen King’s greatest work. The book has been on my TBR for many years, pretty much from my starting of The Gunslinger during my college years. I vaguely knew what the book was about, but I definitely knew that it had a monstrous page count. Other than that, my expectations were moderately high. 

In 1990, a superflu swept across the globe. Its mortality rate was greater than 99%. The survivors of this superflu were therefore few. The Stand opens with the outbreak, and it doesn’t take too many pages before people begin dying. King tells this tale through several different points of view (too many for this particular story), from an up-and-coming Rock-and-Roll star to a deaf mute, from a pregnant coed to an insane pyromaniac. All of these survivors each must come to terms with their circumstances, but they also must come to terms with the reasons behind their survival, a reasoning that is possibly more than what seems. 

The Stand is gripping… at first. The spread of the superflu and its devastation was an absolute thrill to read, especially considering that my allergies kicked in right as I was starting. But as the pages turned and the survivors rose above their circumstances, it didn’t take long for fatigue to set in. Part of the issue was the enormous cast of characters. King spends time building up each one of them, which makes some sense, but not enough to justify their purpose. I mean, I understand why they were in the story, but I don’t understand why King wanted to give so much mundane detail on so many different people. 

Stephen King is a gifted storyteller, that is true. I think it’s also fair to assert that Stephen King is a gifted deliverer of lackluster (or maybe I mean disappointing) conclusions. The Stand gets no reprieve. I felt that after spending 1152 pages with these people that I deserved something more than what I got. Surely King was telling a grand story here. Surely his message and theme deserved climax. Sadly, I felt greatly underwhelmed with the resolutions and the ultimate fates/decisions of the characters. 

What did I like? I liked the opening part of the story, right when the superflu was spreading and people were dying. I liked how King dealt with the humanity mindset in that time of catastrophe. I liked the survivor’s initial guilt and ponderings on why they survived. I liked the stirrings in their minds as they felt the urge to pick up life again and journey across the nation. But, as I’ve said, after this elongated exposition, my entertainment waned. 

I don’t like sounding so negative. I wonder if part of my problem is with the genre itself. King’s post-apocalyptic romp was probably unique back in 1978 when the first edition of the book came out. This is no longer the case, obviously, and post-apocalyptic stories are run of the mill now. I’m sure part of the initial success with the book is attributed to when it was published (which can be said about any book, truly). 

The Stand is much more than a book about a decimating (uh, centi-mating?) epidemic. It’s a book about Good versus Evil, sort of. It’s a book about what it means to be human and be a manipulator or one that’s manipulated. It’s a book about choice and consequences. It’s a book about anger and sex and violence and fear and love. It’s a looooooong book and a trifle boring, but never bad enough to abandon. The Stand is vulgar, as is King’s proclivity, but not as bad as could be expected. Ultimately, The Stand is an unsatisfying novel with a brilliant start-up but an inability to pull through. Any fan of King will likely enjoy the novel—and indeed I did enjoy the novel—but to a Reader familiar with contemporary trends the novel will very likely feel flat. I truly did love the first few hundred pages, but that wasn’t enough to overcome to over-long book. Read at your own discretion.


David Wagner said...

Fair assessment, I'd say. I remember reading (and liking) this book back in high school, along with many others of his. They haven't aged well. I was greatly disappointed in my re-read of The Talisman (for example) and it has kept me from re-reading "IT" and The Stand. I'd rather retain the positive vibes I have of those books than have them squashed, as I did with the Talisman.

Anyway, 1150+ pages is quite a slog. That alone is worthy of congratulations.

David Wagner said...

By the way, I notice that Theft of Swords has been listed under Currently Reading for quite some time... any particular reason you won't/can't finish that one? Just curious.

Bill said...

I came to a similar conclusion after watching the made-for-tv movie version of The Stand. The first half is totally engrossing but it gets confusing with the excessive number of characters and the ending was utterly disappointing to me.

logankstewart said...

@Dave: Aye, still reading the book. I finished Book One of the thing, "The Crown Conspiracy," and I really enjoyed it. I took a pause before diving into "Avempartha" in order to read Stephen King.

@Bill: Really? That's too bad. I'd like to watch the mini-series just to see how fair of a job it did for the book.

Lynn said...

I haven't read this and probably won't do so to be honest so appreciate your honest review.
I agree with David - it is sometimes a mistake to revisit your earlier reads - you have a sort of 'romanticised' notion of them and going back can spoil it.
Lynn :D

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I, too, read this way back in high school, and it made a huge impression on me then. To be honest, I've avoided re-reading the thing because it was just so damned depressing.

I tend to agree with your assessment of King's writing. He can be absolutely brilliant in one book, and completely inept in another (I give you Pet Sematary and The Tommyknockers), but my memory of The Stand is that it is an example of the former rather than the latter.

I recently read It for the first time. Another brilliant book by King, but so dense that I had a really hard time getting through it. Once I got through the book, I felt like all of the detail and background on the characters had a point. Reading through all of that material, and it taking so long to get through, left me feeling like I'd grown up with the kids in the book. It made me feel so much closer to the story and it felt like I had something riding on its conclusion. Anyway, my two cents.

Take care, Logan.

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby