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[The Stand] Books That Shine: A Chronological Reread of Stephen King

The Stand is a huge book, not just for its 1000 plus pages, but for the radiating effect, it’s had on literature. Looking back now you can see how it’s become a benchmark for every post-apocalyptic story that’s come out since. Unfortunately, I feel that this was something of a negative for me on this reread as I was constantly reminded of other works that have ripped off pieces of this book. 

All my memories of reading The Stand concern being in awe by the level of detail that King depicts the world falling apart. I’m still in awe of it, and really the novel’s best section is the first called Captain Trips, which details the destruction of humanity by the escape of a man-made superflu. We get introduced to a wide variety of characters that are immune to the flu from various different locations across the states. Stu Redman for example is imprisoned by the government in an early attempt to contain the flu then becomes the focus of a study due to his immunity. Lloyd Henreid is trapped inside a prison, unable to get free while the rest of its population dies off and rot. Frannie Goldsmith is dealing with the fact that everyone she seems to know is dead while being pregnant in a world without doctors, rules, or order. 

These are a number of sequences in this first section that will forever be some of King’s best work.  Such as Frannie attempts to tell her parents about her pregnancy for the outbreak, including her dominating mother (similar to Susan Norton’s in Salem’s Lot), a troupe King returns to again and again. Another is when Larry Underwood is escaping from New York and travelling underneath one of its bridges (a highlight for many readers as the book’s scariest scene). These are coupled with small vignettes that King uses to show how the rest of the country is falling apart. My favourite and it’s my favourite scene in the entire book is where a nameless woman who is terrified of the opposite sex kills herself rather than receive help from a man.

The Stand by Stephen King book cover

Yes, it’s a weird scene to call my favourite, but it’s the level of emotion in it that King invokes that shocked me when I was 13, and still shocks me now. Each time I read it I think that the male character might not mean her harm. That’s the brilliance of King, he’s able to create such feeling with so little. 

Sadly, it’s not all excellence, but I’ll come to that. 

As the Captain Trips section ends our cast are experiencing dreams either of a figure of good, Mother Abigail, or one of evil, The Walkin’ Dude.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate how cool a name like The Walkin’ Dude is. 

Anyway, this is early King territory, so his cast are split between good and evil by who they chose to follow. What’s interesting is the characters aren’t exactly fully one way or the other. They all have their flaws and their virtues. Yet, neither is all good or all evil, which begs the question why some people only get good dreams and some people get bad dreams. It’s a bit to black and white picture for me, but nothing to moan about. What I will moan about though is how much the story bogs down in the second section of the book. 

Those that side with Mother Abigail either journey to her or follow her to Boulder whereas those that side with The Walkin’ Dude AKA Randall Flagg, a big bad we will meet again, go to Las Vegas. King’s eye for detail continues as we feel every mile his characters spend on the road, and that’s fine until they all arrive in Boulder. 

The reason I say Boulder is we aren’t given much about the Vegas side at all. King talks about The Stand as being his own Vietnam, how he had started this gigantic work and couldn’t figure out how to end it. It shows in this second act as we are subjected to countless conversations and meetings about the same thing. It’s the closest I’ve come in my reread that I wanted to skim read. His solution to this issue was to set off a bomb, which he does and allows the novel to get a sense of direction again, kicking it into the third act, The Stand. 

For me, while I loved this story in my youth, I fear it hasn’t aged as well me. Some characters don’t stand out as they should, it suffers from a bloated, repetitive middle and it has a lot of copiers that dull some of the impact the ending of the world scenes have. 

Tier: Books That Surprise 

Rating:

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Companion Books (yes books, because this one is a big one): The Fear by Spencer Hamilton, Swan Song by Robert McCammon. 

 

 

Swan Song Book cover

I can’t pretend that the events of The Stand haven’t been quoted endlessly due to the current state of the world. As such I thought it would be nice to offer up a companion book that directly relates to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Fear by Spencer Hamilton is an intimate pandemic novel about the couple, Ash and Jack, as they endure 2020 confined to their tiny apartment in Texas. 

The Fear book cover

Spencer conjures some real terror not just because his story is written about the current crisis, but the panic that overcomes people and how some utilize that to their advantage. 

Swan Song by Robert McCammon is my second recommendation as like The Stand it works on a big scale, depicting what would happen if Russia and the US unleashed all their nuclear weapons. Filled with rich, diverse characters that all go on their own unique journey as the story goes on. It’s epic in every way.

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart

Author

Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

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