Thursday, July 9, 2009

Title Forty Six: The Stand by Stephen King

I've never read King before; I'm not much for horror, in either books or movies. Basically, I'm kind of a puss. However, I was browsing my sister's bookshelves one night and saw The Stand among the spines (one of her boyfriend's contributions to their little library) and I thought, Hey, why not? I wasn't sure if I would like it, but hot damn did I.

When an accident at a California military base lets loose a bioweapon, one soldier escapes and bolts home to retrieve his wife and child, completely unaware that he's carrying the most contagious and terrifying plague known to man. As the family drives east, they end up crashing into a gas station in Texas, infecting everyone in their path before they drop dead of what becomes known as the "superflu." It spreads across the country like wildfire, wiping out millions in a few short weeks. The victims die grisly deaths as the military attempts to control the situation and fails miserably. A tiny segment of the population, somehow immune, are left behind as the world around them essentially grinds to a halt. There's no electricity; roads are choked with cars filled with bodies rotting in the summer heat; dogs and horses die as well. Civilization as it exists in 1990 disappears as the survivors attempt to figure out what it all means. They become pawns in an epic struggle between good and evil, as they dream about two people: Mother Abigail, an ancient black woman who lives on a farm in Nebraska and becomes the central figure for the good guys, and Randall Flagg, a demon who sets up shop in Las Vegas and creates a community of amoral misfits and those who decide that their chances are better on his side. While Flagg, also called the Dark Man and the Walkin Dude, gets the power back on and starts assembling a collection of worker drones and nuclear weaponry, the motley crew of goodies make their way first to Nebraska to unite under Mother Abigail and then move on to set up the Free Zone in Boulder, Colorado, where God has directed Mother Abigail to take her people to prepare for the final showdown. Eventually, a small group of Free Zoners set out, under Mother Abigail's instructions, for Las Vegas and a confrontation with Flagg.

King uses this massive work to illustrate a grand sociopolitical question: what would it be like if everything just stopped and you were left behind? His characters are amazingly real and nuanced - Frannie Goldsmith, a pregnant college girl from Maine; Larry Underwood, a rock star from New York City who was running from a bad scene in L.A.; Stu Redman, a redneck from the small town in Texas where the original victim died; Nick Andros, a deaf-mute who goes from being a social outcast to a leader. At nearly 1200 pages, it's almost impossible for me to summarize this huge novel, but the narrative is so far-ranging and well-planned that it's almost as impossible to believe that one person could have created it. I never once grew bored, nor did my curiosity wane as I ventured deeper into the story. It's frightening because it could happen, and it made me wonder what kind of person I would be if I survived something so devastating. The good versus evil thing wasn't as important to me, but it provided a decent context and motivation for the plot and actions of the characters. I'm glad I read it. I don't think it's turned me into a King fan, because I'm still afraid of almost everything, but it was worth the while.


Lainey said...

I'm so glad you liked it! I loved this book and have read it a few times. I had mono the summer after 8th grade. My dad brought me a book to help pass time. It was "The Stand" - so yeah, I was pretty sure I had Captain Trips and would be dying any day. I didn't even care after a bit because I was SO hooked on the story!

If you're curious to try other King books, I highly recommend "IT". Not as epic as "The Stand", but layered and tons of character development and just a really good story.

Figgylicious said...

Yay! I love that you liked it. It's one of my absolute favorites, and I've read it about 5 times over. I love when other people read it and like it ;)

Like Lainey I'd recommend "It" if you want the scary (really fucking scary), but some of his books with female protagonists are really amazing, like Dolores Clairborne or Misery.