Let me just say from the start that my objectivity when it comes to this book is somewhat in question. Okay, it may be non-existent. I've simply been in love with this book for far too long. As scary as it is to admit, I first read this book nearly 30 years ago. Before that time, I'd certainly had books I'd adored as a kid. But The Stand was the first adult-ish book that just totally captivated me. I'd read a couple other Stephen King books prior to this, and really loved them, but even they hadn't prepared me for the experience I would have with The Stand. It was so much more than a great book to me. There have certainly been other books that have drawn me into them so much that I feel I'm living them, but none before or since has done that so completely as The Stand. Around this house, we speak of the characters in this book as if they are real people. For in my mind, they are so alive that I simply can't banish them to the world of fiction.
Somewhere along the line I lost count of how many times I've read this book. Minimum count is six. But I think it's really seven or eight. This time around I read the "complete and uncut" version. It's the version I recommend, as it has all of the story King originally wanted told. Yes, it adds hundreds of pages to an already lengthy book. And yes, the book I originally fell in love with was the originally published shortened version. And at this point, after having read both more than once, I'm not even 100% sure of all that is missing from the shortened version. But I do remember being amazed upon first reading the uncut version...I couldn't believe that the publishers had made King cut so much "good stuff".
Anyway, what is the book about? Ultimately, I suppose it boils down to your basic good vs. evil story. But really, that doesn't do this book justice at all. While it is as simple as that, it is also so very much more complicated than that. The powers that be in the good old U.S.A. had cooked up some very nasty germs. Human error and human terror ultimately result in said nasty germs finding their way out of super-secretive government facility, where they manage to wipe out in the neighborhood of 99% of the human population. We witness government denial, militaristic clamp-downs, and the basest of human behaviors as society falls apart. But we also meet the people who will make sacrifices through the coming months that will help the human race survive. These people are not of the too-good-to-be-true variety. No, they are good people, but they are real people, people with weaknesses, people who make mistakes.
There's way too much to the book to explain everything, so it will sound terribly simplistic when I say that the survivors of the plague in the U.S. end up in two camps, the "bad guys" in Las Vegas and the "good guys" in Boulder, CO. Please just trust me that it is not nearly so simplistic. And the whole idea of "good guys" and "bad guys" is not nearly so simplistic either. Tom Cullen, who just happens to be one of my favorite people in the book, is a mildly retarded man with an extraordinary gift of understanding. At one point, when he is trying to get back to Boulder, or "the free Zone" as they call it, he thinks about the differences.
He lay in the shade of the big rock and watched the sky darken. The stars began to peep out. He thought about Pringle's Potato chips and wished he had some. When he got back to the Zone--if he did get back to the Zone--he would have all of them he wanted. He would gorge on Pringle's chips. And bask in the love of his friends. That was what was missing back there in Las Vegas, he decided--simple love. They were nice enough people and all, but there wasn't much love in them. Because they were too busy being afraid. Love didn't grow very well in a place where there was only fear, just as plants didn't grow very well in a place where it was always dark.
As I said, this story is just too big to summarize adequately. It's good vs. evil. It's human frailty. It's love and sacrifice. It's society crumbling. It's struggles with rebuilding a society, and questions about whether that's even a good idea.
Stephen King has multitudes of fans. *Raising my hand* (Though I freely admit it's been a very long time since I've read anything by him other than a handful of short stories.) But he also has many detractors. And while I certainly realize that not everyone enjoys the type of stories he writes, horror stories, stories with supernatural elements, sometimes stories with a bit of gore. I can certainly understand that. But I've never quite been able to understand those people who claim that the man simply can't write. I guess my standards for good writing just differ from some of the experts on such matters. But to me, good writing is as simple as telling a great story, making characters truly come to life, and making me "feel" something in a powerful way.
Yes, I do agree that there are those with a tremendous gift with words. People who can make words sound like music. Ray Bradbury comes to mind. And in mind, Stephen King isn't quite that type of writer. Though I don't think he's entirely lacking in this gift either.
From here you could actually see Gary, because the industrial smokes that usually poured from its factory stacks were absent and the air up that way was as clear as it was down here. Chicago was a dream wrapped in summer haze, and there was faint blue glint to the far northeast that was either Lake Michigan or just wishful thinking.
But while it is a delight to read the words of a lyrical author, I don't believe that is the only kind of author that can qualify for that subjective category of "good writer". Yes, I do know that I have no "qualifications" for judging good writing. I have no literary degree, and can't even intelligently discuss books in the way so many people can. (Just reading my reviews gives proof of that.) I just come at it from the point of view as your average reader.
I said earlier that what really makes a book for me are a great story, real characters, and an emotional connection. So, it is easy for me to see why this book continues to be my favorite book ever. First, I'm a sucker for a great post-apocalyptic tale, and The Stand is truly the ultimate story in this genre in my eyes. It's just a great story. Despite its 1,153 page length (in my hard cover version), it never slows, it never feels too long. Though at times it does get a bit heavy to hold. :) Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, the characters in this book are so well-developed, are so utterly human, that I truly feel I know them. I most certainly love many of them despite the fact that my brain tells me they're only fictional. And finally, we come to that emotional connection. Yes, there are many, many books that make me cry. This is definitely one of them. And there are many, many books that make me smile because they touch some very special part of my heart. Again, this is definitely one of them. There are books that scare me. Again this one qualifies. Stephen King makes me "feel" so much throughout the course of this book...from the utter terror of Stu's escape from Stovington to the horror of Larry's journey through the Lincoln tunnel to the revulsion of Lloyd's existence locked in a jail cell when no one else there remains alive to the innocent jubilation of Tom when he finds the bike that Nick fixed up for him to the heart-breaking agony when Larry, Glen, and Ralph have to leave Stu...I could go on forever. But I won't, as I'm fairly sure I've already gone on far too long as it is.
If you've reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here. Thanks.
I started this too early to use it for the RIP Challenge, but it would make a great read for it! It does "unofficially" count towards my End of the World, Chunkster, Decades, and A-Z Challenges.