The Stand: book in review
And before you ask, yes, this is the complete and uncut edition review. In case you were wondering, because I know you are. When mentioning broadly that I was reading The Stand, it was by far the first question many mentioned, or stated thereof: “Make sure you’re reading the uncut or you’ll have to start all over again.” And they’re right. If one was to read The Stand for the first time or at least the first time in a decade or two, you may want to invest in this behemoth, M-O-O-N, that spells 1,000 plus page journey into the heart of the 1990s psyche. The Stand is as the New York Post commented roughly 25 years ago, “In many ways, this is a book for the 1990’s, when America [was] beginning to see itself less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders. Americans seemed delighted but in an odd way humiliated when Vaclav Havel, a tiny man from a small country, entered the great halls of Congress and delivered an uninflated Jeffersonian address. ‘The Stand,’ complete and uncut, is about the padded shoulders and the behemoth and the humiliation.”
I believe, for better or worse, this above 25 year review remains true today as it did then. The Stand is ultimately about humiliation, or perhaps something more, perhaps humility as well and not just the embarrassment of a plagued ego. There is both hope and fear in that notion. Hope that we can still better ourselves. Fear that it’ll take a plague that wipes out 99% of our population to do so.
The Super Flu, or Captain Trips, within the confines of the book, was the mother of all plagues designed, more or less, to consume the ego of humanity. What could be done within the pages of Stephen King’s masterpiece? Not a damn thing. You died, or you didn’t die. That is all. There were no preparations to be made. No magic cure. No vaccine. No decontamination. The world ended and there was nothing America (as is the focus of the book) could do about it. With all our plans, our designs of purpose and political gain, the world (via The Stand) slipped comfortably into chaos, lashing out at times with cruel attempts to maintain control. I recall reading through the opening chapters and thinking, “Why didn’t the government warn people?” Thinking about it now, what could they say? News was already spreading. Hope seemed like a cheap sale to most, others gladly took it and clung to it. Not to sound to villainous, but these were the best parts of the book, watching people react, both good and bad, in the face of catastrophe. This is more or less the same reason why I enjoy Romero-esk zombie stories as well. Zombies are cool, but what’s even cooler is watching how people react in the face of such cataclysmic odds. What will they do? And in King’s book, after 99% of America’s population dies, what will the survives do? And what I found also interesting in this aspect was discovering the “no man is an island” concept. While this does not speak for everyone, but for the majority, we are a community based life. We are a commutative species that depends upon not just our own wits, but the wits of others too. We crave belonging. We crave companionship. We crave community or as they say “common-unity.”
In King’s epic The Stand, this basic need of common-unity is broken down into three groups. Yes, you heard me, three. The first two are easily recognized. Good, Mother Abigail and her Colorado haven. And the second, Evil, Randell Flagg’s strict Las Vegas commune. The third is not easily recognized, because it remains in the shadow, for a time. This third group are the moderates, the “silent majority,” to quote Nixon. This was the group watching the events between Abigail’s and Flagg’s group unfold. They were the quiet watchers, unsure of which group to follow, or to follow any group at all. Towards the end of the book, we begin to see this silent majority take shape as members from both Good and Evil camps begin to cut tides, searching for their own undiscovered country, their own America. This was, I think, out of concern. Like Frannie and Stu, there is an unsettling feeling watching the Bolder community grow and expand and mutate back into some symbolism of what America had once looked like. But wasn’t the old America, the old ways the same ways in which brought about Captain Trips in the first place? The same despite need for control and the terrifying escalation in which that desire ultimately brings?
So, in a way, you can say that The Stand is basically about the death of all certainty, for nothing can be for certain, and what life would look like or could look like in the aftermath.
Just like most of King’s stories, The Stand was a character infused story driven by situation. His characters are some of the most real personas found within the pages of pop culture. Some I enjoyed more than others. Nick Andros was entertaining to read, though he was a bit naive. Stu Redman was also a favorite, being a Texan and all. There was also Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman (for some reason, I always picture Ben Franklin when reading the bits with Glen), and I even liked the more so-called wicked characters, both Harold and Trash were both favorites, though more or less pitied. I was not really a fan of Frannie Goldsmith. I found her to be actually rather annoying in the story. My all time favorite character by far was Mr. Tom Cullen. I’m not sure if that’s an odd character to hang your hat on. Cullen certainly did not play a pivotal role in the opening or even middle acts. Though he is there in the those transitions, his character becomes more important later on in the final stages of King’s apocalyptic play. And by apocalypse, I mean not the obvious understanding (doom and gloom), but rather, the literal Greek definition, the “unveiling of knowledge,” the lifting of the veil, so-to-speak. In this, Tom Cullen is strangely gifted. His character, at first glance is obvious thin layered, or so he seems. Being a mentally challenged character, we may have a tendency to quickly dismiss him as a simple persona. However, there are layers to Tom, more than meets the eye, as they say. He has a power, and not just in prophesy, but also in faith. Tom has an unadulterated faith in the goodness of people. Child-like, almost. And certainly a quality worth respecting in our adult haggard age.
My Rating: 5/5