That’s right, I’m back doing my best Oprah impression. And, as you can tell, I’m writing this kind of late. That’s because The Stand, written by Stephen King, has kept me up until all hours of the night for the better part of a week now.
No, I’m not up because it’s scary like King’s reputation would have you think. I’m up in my room because it’s LONG (not as long as some things in my room if you know what I mean. But I digress). That’s right, this whopper of a novel is more than 1,100 pages. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever read, but wow, it’s engrossing.
The premise is simple: a “superflu” breaks out and it kills 99% of the world’s population. Those left behind struggle to survive and cope, and they eventually band together with other survivors they meet on the road.
The survivors are driven by the dreams they all have in common. One involves a benevolent 108-year-old woman named Mother Abagail and the other is of the demonic Randall Flagg, the man hellbent on destroying them. Those that choose Mother Abagail’s side make their way to Boulder, Colorado. Flagg’s followers? Las Vegas, of course.
The cast of characters in this thing is huge. I’m pretty sure I’ve read about 20 characters that have all had pretty sizable roles. And yet, King does a masterful job of weaving their lives together in ways that make sense and really get you feeling for each and every one of them, whether they’re stoic and brave like Stu Redman, terrifyingly disturbed like the appropriately nicknamed Trashcan Man (he likes fire. A lot.), or the deaf-mute-with-a-heart-of-gold Nick Andros.
The largest portion of the book details the buildup and immediate aftermath of the plague. King goes into graphic detail of the destruction it wreaks on the human population, and then does a masterful job of character development, chronicling the roads down which these characters walk to get to where they need to be for the final conflict. Their motivations and backstories are highly believable and well exectuted.
The thing about the book that is most enjoyable isn’t the cool fantasy story about good versus evil. It is the characters and the world building going on. King develops this terrifying new world with levels of detail you wouldn’t expect, right down to the electrical fires that amateur electricians would start when trying to get a city’s power supply turned on again. Also, the research that must have gone into mastering the geography of the story alone must have taken forever.
During all of this world building, King intersperses snippets of the dreams everyone’s having of Flagg coming to get them, and it instills a creeping dread throughout the book that works wonderfully, and it provides a certain ticking clock aspect to the narrative that I really enjoy. The buildup to the coming war between the good people of Boulder and the evil denizens of Las Vegas feels real and immediate. It’s something I’m looking forward to reading.
That’s right, I haven’t finished the book yet. So, for anyone who has, don’t spoil it for me. But for those of you who haven’t read it, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s massively influential on some of the biggest fantasy hits over the last several decades, especially my pop cultural Golden Calf, Lost. So go pick it up and try not to let the length of the book intimidate you. It’s worth it (so far. I swear, if it all ends with it “all being a dream,” I’ll slap someone.)