My blossoming love affair with Stephen King continues, with yet another behemoth of awesomeness: The Stand.
This particular edition was released in 1990, twelve years after the first release. It was updated and expanded, and I have no reference to the first edition but, according to “Publisher’s Weekly,” at least as quoted on amazon.com, “The same excellent tale of the walking dude, the chemical warfare weapon called superflu and the confrontation between its survivors has been updated to 1990, so references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Reagan years, Roger Rabbit and AIDS are unnecessarily forced into the mouths of King’s late-’70s characters.”
But if you’re asking me, nothing felt forced (though there is the same repeated quick exposition that I noted as vaguely annoying when I reviewed It… Yeah, I get it, Stephen: Glen is bald, and was a sociologist before the superflu epidemic… I HEARD YOU THE FIRST 850 PAGES!), and honestly, the reasons King gives for revisiting the text for a re-release (too long to quote here, but worth reading in the Preface when you pick up the book) feel right to me, and I appreciated all of the supposedly-extra color and flavor as part and parcel of the story-telling that carried me through. Maybe he does have “diarrhea of the word processor.” Maybe I’m into that.
The Stand is an epic. It’s basically an Ur-text for lots of what’s popular right now, and so important and successful in what it tries to accomplish. Without its success, I think the face of pop culture would be different today. Off the cuff without touching The Almighty Internet, I would say that “The Walking Dead” (and probably even more so, “Fear the Walking Dead”) and “The Last Man on Earth” owe their existences to the creative foundation that this book establishes; the phrase “the walking dead,” actually appears several times in the book, and there was a scene in TLMOE that is straight-up lifted out of Stu and Frannie’s journey.
Right, so Stu and Frannie. And Larry, and Glen, and Harold, and Nadine, and Joe/Leo, and Trashcan Man, and Lloyd, and The Walking Dude, and Nick, and Tom, and Lucy, and Sue, and Ralph, and Mother Abagail, et freaking al. This is a story of MANY people, all affected by a superflu epidemic that sweeps the earth. King hones in on America, which is certainly focusing in, but still is a very wide angle. There’s a lot of story, and he starts just before the epidemic begins, following all of these individual stories and their overlap for a full year.
It’s enormous, and thorough, and suspenseful, spooky on a number of levels: while reading it, I found it scary to be on the subway with coughing people, and also scary to be in the dark near un-shaded windows. It’s a story of human failure and hubris, and also of good and evil. The beginning is very believable, and so what follows becomes conceivable. This is, as I’ve said, my second King novel ever, and I’m deeply interested in the fact that in both books the incredibly terrifying Bad is balanced by an undeniable Good.
Bonus in The Stand: there is a Very Good Dog. And basically, I don’t ever want anything else.