Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Book: The Stand, by Stephen King

King, Stephen. 1990. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. Doubleday.

What better time to read a classic pandemic novel than at the tail end (locally at least) of a pandemic, albeit one much less deadly than that described in the book.

Post-apocalyptic tales have been a favorite of mine ever since I read Robert Silverberg's Time of the Great Freeze back in fifth grade (and the fact that it concerned too little warming rather than too much signals just how long ago that was). Back in the day I read classics like On the Beach and Alas, Babylon! and I have continued to read one or two post-apocalyptic tales a year (putting aside my general break from reading for pleasure during the second half of gradual school). They've been enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately.

If you poke around the internet for lists of the best post-apocalyptic novels, The Stand appears on most such lists, often near the top. So I have been meaning to read it for many years. I went "all in" and read the director's cut version with the idea that I might well never read another Stephen King book, and so I should read this one the way he meant it to be read. The director's cut has 1153 pages of text, though they are not dense and the book reads quickly in a pages-per-minute sense.

The first book-within-a-book  (of three) details the spread of the plague and the ensuing death and destruction. It was my favorite part of the book. The third book-within-a-book documents the great showdown (in which various people make a stand, hence the title) between good and evil. That was my second favorite part. My enthusiasm flagged (sorry, a pun too easy to resist but one you will only note if you have already read the book) a bit at times in the middle book-within-a-book. I suspect that most of the editor's cuts came from this part.

Some random thoughts: I was surprised by the Christian-ness of it; I suspect that feature explains some of its enduring popularity. I was surprised that one of the main characters is a sociologist. The book is very much of its time - in technology, gender relations, and so on. It emphasizes the way tough times can change people for the better and for the worse. And it embodies the sort of lightly paranoid anti-government stance that permeated popular culture in the years after Vietnam and Watergate.

Recommended but only for true lovers of the post-apocalyptic and/or of Stephen King. I will give it four stars on Goodreads, in contrast  to the five stars I gave to Station Eleven.

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