The Stand and a Standalong wrap up

Thursday, July 26, 2012


As you may recall, I decided to join Trish’s Standalong this summer and tackle King’s epic novel. After a bit of paranoid sneezing, funny twitter conversations and hundreds of pages I’m now done and here’s what I thought.

The Stand
by Stephen King
★★★★☆

A man-made disease, dubbed “Captain Trips” by the survivors, sweeps through the country killing the majority of people in its path. It leaves in its wake broken and scattered groups of people with no leaders and a few strange shared dreams.

SPOILERS

King’s massive book introduces us to a ragtag group that doesn’t come together until almost halfway through the novel. There’s Stu, a quiet widower from Texas and Fran, a young pregnant woman from Maine. Then we have Larry a singer from California who finds himself in New York when the plague breaks out. Then just when you think King is done adding characters another half dozen are thrown into the mix: Ralph Bretner, Susan, Dayna, Patty, Laurie, Shirley, etc. The list goes on and on.

Nick, a deaf mute from Arkansas, was one of my favorites. He is so unsure of himself and in this new post-apocalyptic world he’s given the chance to be a leader. He’s deputized at a small sheriff station just as the world goes to hell. Left in that impossible situation with multiple prisoners in his care he does the best that he can. He’s alone, but he’s grown accustomed to that.

Nick meets Tom Cullen, a mentally handicapped man that he decides to travel with. Tom is a simple man, so sweet and earnest and he quickly became another favorite. One interesting element in the book is the way groups came together. The most unexpected people ended up becoming friends or lovers because they ran into each other on the road.

Glen Bateman grew on me throughout the book. He was a professor that Stu befriends early on and I loved hearing his thoughts on what makes up a society. Shortly after Stu meets Glen and his dog Kojak in New Hampshire, they have a picnic and a philosophical discussion of what will happen in the world now that order has been removed.
 
“No, I can’t accept the idea that we’re all pawns in some post-Apocalypse game of good and evil, dreams or not. Goddammit, it’s irrational!”


Another important character is Mother Abigail Freeman, the 108-year-old woman they all dream. She lives in Nebraska and the marauding groups of survivors all try and make their way towards her home for guidance. The woman had spirit and though I wasn’t in love with her storyline of wandering the desert, I still liked her strong will and devotion to her beliefs. She also had some wonderful lines…
 
“The Lord provides strength, not taxi cabs.”
 

Let’s not forget the bad guys: we have Trashcan Man, the arsonist, and Randall Flagg, the Dark Man himself. His right-hand-man is Lloyd, a robber who is trapped in a jail cell during the outbreak. After a particularly harrowing time in the cell Lloyd is rescued by Randall, after which Lloyd views Flagg as his savior.  Finally we have the sad, strange Harold, an “is he or isn’t he bad” character. He fell in love with Frannie and felt like he lost everything if he couldn’t have her. I was glad that one-sided character, a slutty girl named Julie Lawry, came back into play at the end of the book because otherwise her storyline seemed way too random and unnecessary.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the characters’ struggles with the choices they made and with guilt from their past actions. For example, Larry was pretty lost before the plague. Then he meets Rita, a rich woman wandering through Central Park. She was so calm, but he quickly realized that was because she was pumping her system full of pills. Still the strange juxtaposition of her civility in the midst of chaos was striking, even though that relaxed demeanor seemed to be tinged with madness. When Rita overdoses and dies Larry feels like he’s responsible and he can’t forgive himself. After that he felt like he had to “save” the others he comes across, especially Nadine and the strange young boy Joe (née Leo).

I also thought it was interesting that the plague some how emphasized certain qualities in people. Anyone who had a special ability quickly realized that gift became heightened after the epidemic. If someone was an electrician, they were now in charge of that in the whole community, or if someone had the ability to see others for who they really are, that became much clearer. It was as if all the regular distractions of life were stripped away and so those elements could shine.

I really loved some of the quiet moments when the characters reflected on the small and big things that they lost and when they ponder what will come next. It felt so realistic. Instead of a world made up of warriors and villains, they are just ordinary people with problems we can all relate to. A former judge on the verge of retirement, a vet thrust into the role of doctor, etc. these are people that you might know in your everyday life.

A Few Heart Wrenching Scenes/Elements:
- Fran burying her father. I couldn’t imagine going through that.
- Nick’s death, I felt so attached to him and I hated the way he went.
- Stu being left on the road with a broken leg and Kojak returning to him.
- Dayna, Tom, and the Judge being sent out to go west as spies completely alone. I was terrified for them and I hated that plan.
- Nadine’s story was perhaps the strangest and most disconcerting. She seemed like she couldn’t control the choices she made. It was awful to watch her fate unfold.
- Realizing what Kojak had to go through to get back to his master, traveling from New Hampshire to Colorado alone.
- Dayna’s death, the Dark Man became so calm and rational and that’s much harder to resist than a screaming lunatic. But even though he tried to hide it, his evil intentions leaked into the things he said in small ways and it was horrifying.
- When society breaks down, the small things matter. An infected cut might kill you, while a good meal or discovering a way to hear music might keep you sane for another day. It made me think about the things that matter to me in my own life.

Towards the end of the book we watch Harold and Nadine’s dark descent as they bend their action’s to Flagg’s will. Then Larry and Fran both have to come to terms with their own guilt for the twisted pair’s actions. They think that if they hadn’t turned them down maybe the worst might not have happened.

We watch Stu, Ralph, Glen and Larry break away from the group with no supplies or plan to find and confront the Dark Man. Their faith is inspiring, but also shocking. Since the beginning of their time in Colorado and even before that as they traveled towards Mother Abigail, there was a plan of some sort. Watching them willingly abandon that was hard.

The book ends with quite a few open possibilities for the characters. Lucy Swann is pregnant with Larry’s child and it’s one of the first babies conceived from two immune parents. We don’t know whether that baby will be born immune to Captain Trips or if it will struggle like Fran’s baby. Fran and Stu decide to return to Maine and who knows what they will find there. The community in Bolder has grown astronomically and the typically leaders are beginning to emerge and grapple for power. We also don’t know whether or not the Dark Man will return in another incarnation.
 
“If Glen has been here, Stu thought he would have said that the endless American struggle between the law and freedom of individual had begun again.”


I was glad that the book ended this way, again it felt realistic. Just because the bad guy is blown up doesn’t mean everyone will live happily ever after. It’s going to be a tough road and I felt like the book concluded with that in mind.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE:
I really kind of loved it. No, it’s not perfect; King can be long-winded and self-indulgent in his descriptions, but the gripping plot and relatable characters more than made up for that. I was expecting more violence and graphic descriptions and I was thrilled when instead I found the story of the break down and rebuilding of society and the moral dilemmas that create the bonds that hold it together. Don’t judge the book by the cover (or by King’s reputation as the master of horror). Instead, treat yourself to an enthralling look at a post-apocalyptic society.  
 
“There were nice enough people and all, but there wasn’t much love in them. Because they were all too busy being afraid.”

“Things had changed. The whole range of human perception seemed to have stepped up a notch. It was scary as hell.”

A huge thank you for Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity for hosting this. I don't know if I ever would have gotten to this one if she hadn't!

And if you haven't seen it, I love Jill at Fizzy Thoughts' song rendition of The Stand

p.s. If you're wondering how The Stand connects with other King books, check out this Stephen King Universe Flow Chart.

17 comments:

Celine said...

*bites fingers to stop a squeal of joy* So utterly chuffed you enjoyed it! Great review/recap too. Yeay!

annieb said...

I was pretty sure you would really like this book. I haven't read it in years, but think maybe I should give it a reread. Great review.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Celine - It definitely taught me not to judge a book based on the author's reputation.

annieb - I really did! I will say that I'm glad I read the original version. From what I've heard the "uncut" version has a bit more dark stuff and an ending that is very different.

Trish said...

I'm wondering if I have an extra chapter at the end of my book! Which changes EVERYTHING. I posted the last two lines of the book on my post today.

Anyway, I'm so glad you enjoyed the book and many of your feelings were the same as mine. I loved that the characters were so spectacularly ordinary but that they all knit together to make something more than that. I don't think I can forgive King for letting some of the characters go the way that they did but I think I'll just have to swallow that grudge. And yes, watching Nadine (and even at times Harold) was really difficult. I don't know that Nadine had a choice but with Harold it made me wonder if things had been just a little different for him how wildly different things might have turned out in the end.

Thanks for Standing Along. :)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I loved this book as well and had the best time participating and reading this throughout the past nine weeks. Stephen King is a fantastic storyteller and The Stand is one that I will read again, listen to the audio book, and then read again and again and again.

Oh, how I loved Kojak. LOVED HIM. And Tom Cullen was fantastic. Nick was fantastic as well, but I loved Tom and Kojak. My favorites!

christina said...

Fran burying her pop was so heartbreaking. Ugh. I adored the inner turmoil that the characters (well at least the focused ones) went through.

My biggest disappointment though was Nick sorta disappeared at the end, you know? Like, he was such an integral character in the beginning and then sorta faded toward the end. (Until he started 'haunting' Tom!)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - The uncut edition definitely has a different ending from what I've heard, but I liked the way mine ended better. I love that you said the characters were "spectacularly ordinary" that's the perfect way to describe it.

Natalie - I think next time I might try the audiobook too. I heard it was good!

Christina - I was so sad when Nick died, but I agree, even before that he was sort of phased out.

Care said...

Fabulous FABULOUS review! Very well done M. Love this! I really admire how you can pull in the themes so simply, with such insight. WOW.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Care - Thanks! I loved your review too.

Dreamybee said...

I can't BELIEVE how different the two endings are (at least from what I've been able to piece together from various reviews)! While the uncut ending definitely answers one of your lingering questions, it opens up a whole realm of new questions.

I agree with all of your Heart Wrenching Scenes/Elements. I started crying when I read that they were going to send Tom over-Oh! Sweet, innocent Tom?!? Then I cried again for Frannie when Mother Abagail told Stu he was going to have to go. I cried every time Kojak appeared! I didn't expect to do so much crying. LOL!

You mentioned all the characters that kept being added--did you see the complete href= "http://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/stand:_the_complete__uncut_edition_the_characters.html">character list? I found it the other day, and I was blown away! Holy cow!

Dreamybee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dreamybee said...

Augh! Sorry, I am getting my butt kicked by technology. (Much like Randall Flagg-haha!) Anyway, here's the address:

http://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/stand:_the_complete__uncut_edition_the_characters.html

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Dreamybee - That character list is insane!!! I was surprised when I heard how different the ending was, but from what I've heard about the uncut version, I like my ending much better.

Dreamybee said...

I forgot that I wanted to ask you when the book was originally set. In your version, did the story take place in 1990, and was this a futuristic imagining of the world, or was it set in the '70s, when King originally wrote it? If it was futuristic, how do you think he did with predicting what the world would be like?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Dreamybee - In my copy it is set in the 1970s and it isn't futuristic. I heard that the "uncut" version was moved to the 1990s, which is so strange. I think the '70s was a perfect setting for it because it was a time when new technology was changing so quickly and biological warfare was becoming a real possibility.

Trish said...

Melissa, Dreambee - This is actually something that I was thinking about a lot when I was reading the book. There are SO many popculture references in the book that I found myself distracted trying to think about what the original reference in the 1979 version would be. For instance (and hopefully I'm not showing my ignorance), there is a reference to AIDs in the 90s version--surely that's not something that would have been brought up in a book in 1979?! Other references to movies and music and actors and presidents--it would be interesting to compare the two texts.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - I do wish we could have a complete comparison of the differences. I don't think there were any AIDs references in mine at all!