Book Review: The Stand

My latest read was an older Stephen King novel, The Stand. Coming in at over 1400 pages, The Stand is basically three novels in one.

The Stand is a Stephen King's foray into post-apocalyptic fiction. The novel is written from the perspective of the scattered survivors of a virus that has infected and killed close to 99% of humanity. The book is about how the survivors attempt to reestablish civilization.

It's not a Stephen King novel without some supernatural force. In The Stand, We see that force in the form of physical manifestations of "good" and "evil": There is Mother Abagail, a wise and god-fearing 103-year-old woman who reaches people in their dreams and attracts them to rebuild society in Boulder, Colorado. There is also the evil and ambitious Randall Flagg, Satan's disciple, who uses dreams to attract the morally-bankrupt to build the "evil" colony in Las Vegas.

The survivors of the plague trickle in from all parts of the country to join either the dictatorial Randall Flagg or the democratic Mother Abagail.

The Stand was a good read when it came to the individual story-arcs. Stephen King is thorough when it comes to introducing his main characters. He may take 50 pages to describe where Stu Redman (a leading member of the "good" camp) hails from, but after those 50 pages you could describe Stu Redman as though he were a close friend. King also excels at tension-building narrative that makes you want to skip ahead to see what happens to a favored (or hated) character.

The Stand was not a great read, however, because King does not do a good job describing the war between Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg (good vs. evil, basically). I think The Stand should have been a book about the personal struggles of post-apolyptic survivors in a world where mankind no longer controls nature. By introducing the supernatural and the battle of good vs. evil, King tried to make this story a treatise on theology. The end result is a very muddied moral message.

For example, he spends close to 1200 pages building up the terror of Randall Flagg and highlighting the internal squabbles that threaten Mother Abagail's democracy. I expected the last 200 pages to describe a confrontation between the two camps that vindicates Mother Abagail's compassionate-though-inefficient society. Instead, the "evil" camp is destroyed in a freak accident when an atomic bomb detonates in Las Vegas. What this seemed to imply is that the "good" guys were saved by pure, dumb luck; it's not that "good" destroys evil, but that evil destroys itself. This seemed to me like King had enough of writing The Stand and looked for an easy way to end the story.

I haven't seen the TV miniseries based on The Stand, though that's next on my to-watch list. Hopefully, the screen adaptation learned from King's mistakes and toned down the preachy message of the book. Stephen King is strong when it comes to narrative and character development, but moral philosophy is another issue.


digitally404 said...

Dude! You've got to watch the Walking Dead! I GUARANTEE you will LOVE it.

Eva said...

I've heard great things about the show and comic book series, so I'll check it out when I have time.