Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Stand Review

So, the hardest decision to be made when re-reading this Stephen King novel was which version I was going to read.  Should I get the original hardcover from 1978?  The updated paperback from 1980?  Or should I go with the 1990 version, which updated the story from 1980 to 1990 and added 400 extra pages of material cut from the initial release?  Ultimately, I went with the 1990 version, mostly because I already owned it, but also because I wanted what Stephen King originally wrote before editors asked him to trim it down.

And make no mistake, this is a thick novel: My copy checks in at 1439 pages, over double what The Shining reached.  Part of this expansion is due to the nature of the book:  As opposed to a small enclosed area (like The Shining, or Rage), The Stand tracks multiple people across the entire United States as the deal with a superflu that wipes out 98% of the population.  A far-reaching apocalyptic novel cannot be hastily done in a tidy sum of pages.

And what's amazing, is that the book could easily have expanded more.  While we do get to delve into the inner thoughts of numerous characters, both good and bad, there are still many prominent characters that don't get much in the way of attention from King.  In fact, Ralph Brentner's lack of character development despite being one of the main 4 sent to make the final stand is one of my biggest critiques.

Still, King rather effectively explains how the superflu starts spreading, and why it doesn't get stopped.  Most novels (and many movies, to be honest) never explain how the world reached its post-apocalyptic state, but King believably explains it from start to finish.  One of the most harrowing sections of the book deals with Stu Redman escaping a government facility trying to figure out the virus they created, and it wouldn't be half as nerve-wracking if not for the groundwork King had laid earlier.

And The Stand is filled with many such moments.  Larry Underwood's trip through the Lincoln Tunnel is (to me) the single most vivid in its terror, but one could just as easily argue for the impromptu appendix removal, Randall Flagg's meeting with Nadine Cross, or even Trashcan Man's interaction with The Kid.  There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to well crafted moments of horror.

The novel does have its flaws though.  As mentioned above, several characters are prominent without ever really getting delved into (Ralph Brentner might be the worst, but Sue Stern suffers just as much), Randall Flagg, despite having several chilling scenes scattered throughout the novel, never truly feels like a threat, at least not in the way the Harold Lauder does.  And more world-building for Las Vegas would clarify how Flagg maintains loyalty despite having a much crueler disposition than Mother Abagail.

Still, after the shitshow that was Rage, anything would be welcome.  The Stand, thankfully, is pretty great on its own.

Pages:  1439
Movie?:  A miniseries in 1994, nominated for six Emmys, winning two.  Supposedly there is a movie in development... or a series of movies.  It has been in development hell for 5 years now.
Dark Tower?:  Yes.  Randall Flagg is a recurring villain from the series, and the Ka-Tet briefly interact with part of the Captain Trips world.
Child Deaths?:  Lots, since the majority of the planet dies, but King does go into details involving a few.
Penis Talk?:  Yes, up to and including the thinness of a character's semen after masturbating.
Grade:  A-

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