Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Stand...random thoughts

The Stand by Stephen King

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.

10 comments:

Nymeth said...

"I guess my standards for good writing just differ from some of the experts on such matters."

Or maybe some of the "experts" just wouldn't be caught dead admitting that a popular writer can also be - gasp! - a good writer ;)

I've never read any Stephen King other than a short story (I know, I know), but I perfectly understand and respect that some people just don't like his stuff. What I have a harder time understanding are the people who've never read him but abhor him anyway just as a "matter of principle". Just because he's not Respectable Enough.

And for the record, Debi, I trust your opinion more than that of many of my supposedly qualified literature professors.

Anyway...it's settled. This is going to be my first Stephen King. It's going straight to the list of books I must read next year.

Dawn said...

I read the Stand about 30 years ago as well and remember thoroughly enjoying it. I am a big fan of Stephen King. I used to read his books as soon as I could get a hold of them!!! They are the only books I have bought over the years that I won't part with!

I tell people that I think he has a great sense of humor when he writes and get the funniest looks!

You are right. His characters always seems like real people!

You have made me want to read this book again!

take care,
Dawn

Lis Garrett said...

I remember complaining to my dad one summer day that I was bored. I was almost 12. He went to his vast library and pulled out Stephen King's Salem's Lot and told me to go read it. Oh, the horror!!! I wasn't even able to make it through half the book before I started having nightmares! When I told him it was too scary, he handed me The Stand . . . and I devoured it!! I haven't read it in awhile, but it's always been one of my favorites.

PS - My dad never censored what we read or watch. I remember watching scary R-rated movies as young as Bridget's age. The Changeling and The Howling are NOT appropriate for young children.

PPS - My parents divorced when I was three, hence why she wasn't around to enforce her better judgement!

Chris said...

You make it very hard for me to put off reading this book any longer Debi! I finally actually bought a copy of it a few months ago, but it's a used paperback...now I want the uncut hardcover with the illustrations! So I may just go buy that ;) I do have $5 in Borders bucks to help! The size is just so intimidating, but at the same time I totally agree with you that King's books just fly by despite their size. I'm with you...I think he's an amazing author regardless of what others say. I think some people just knock certain authors because of their popularity...but that's just personal opinion :/

Stephanie said...

Debi - This is an awesome post!! Of course, I'm biased because The Stand is truly on of my favorite books ever! And actually I think I got more out of it the second time I read it.

In no way do I think Stephen King's writing is simplistic. But what I do think is he writes so well, that it SEEMS simplistic. That doesn't make much sense, I know. But when I read King, it's like reading my own thoughts. It's so easy to read and so easy to get sucked right into the middle of a storyline (and it's usually someplace I don't ever want to be in "real" life!) But it works. And I love him for it. Far too many critics deride him for this. But his work entertains me....and that to me, is the sign of a good writer.

I know you watched the mini-series. And right now, after reading this entry, I have strains of Don't Fear the Reaper running through my head (man...if that wasn't the best song to ever use in an opening scene, I don't know what was!)

I could gush all day about this book. M-O-O-N. That spells LOVE This books!! Thank you for reminding me why and just how much!

Carl V. said...

If a book makes that big of an impact on you as a reader and continues to do so the more times you read it then it is a good book, that is all there is too it. It may not be everyone's cuppa tea, but it has to have a combination of qualities that make it worth reading and re-reading. I don't worry about critics. I certainly have lost my objectivity over Dracula, Neverwhere, Stardust and any number of other novels over time, but that doesn't mean that what I have to say about those books is any less valid. The same for you and King.

King has certainly garnered his share of criticism over the years, but who cares. He is also a best selling author and quite an intelligent and interesting person. Although it has been awhile since I've read King, I consider myself a fan. His books ensured that my teenage and early adult years were filled with quality terror!

Great review/overview of the book and your thoughts on it. Don't doubt yourself and don't apologize for what you like, especially when you like it so strongly. Nicely done!

Debi said...

Nymeth,
Oh, I do hope you will read it! Of course, then I'll worry that you'll hate it and blame me for having wasted so much of your time. ;)

Dawn,
You know, that's a really good point...he does have an amazing sense of humor!

Melissa,
That's funny (well, not haha funny, but you know what I mean) about Salem's Lot. It's the one thing that really gave Rich nightmares as a kid!

Chris,
I really do hope you dive into it soon! Though like I told Nymeth, then I'll be afraid that you won't like it and you'll blame me. Of course, Stephanie loves it as much as I do...and we couldn't both be wrong, now could we? ;)

Stephanie,
Your comment just made my day! It's just so fun having someone love something as much as you do, you know what I mean? Sort of makes me feel like I'm not such a fanatic or something.
Oh, and I couldn't agree with you more about Don't Fear the Reaper! I actually thought they did a great job with all the music for the movie. And now every time I hear Don't Fear the Reaper (which is fairly often as it's on my iPod), I get this overwhelming urge to pick up the book!

Carl,
Thanks. And I loved what you said about King's books and your teenage/young adult years...I could definitely say the same! In fact, aside from some short stories and multiple rereads of The Stand, I really haven't read anything of his since that time. But RIP is definitely putting me in the mood to jump back in!

Chele76 said...

I first read this book about 20 years ago and absolutely loved it. This is such a wonderful tale.. Have you read The Tallisman as well? I think it is in the same league as The Stand, but with a little more of a fantasy twist to it.

Carl V. said...

Have you read his On Writing book? It is fabulous. Definitely worth reading.

Debi said...

Carl,
No, I haven't. And probably never would have thought to. But thanks for the recommendation. I'll definitely keep my eye out for it!