When I was in the seventh grade, I went to summer camp and discovered books I had never heard of or seen before. Other girls brought books like Flowers in the Attic and Forever, stolen from their older sisters. We all borrowed them and couldn’t get enough of these adult-seeming books.
And then one girl showed us The Shining. I had no idea what it was, but she told me it was scary.
And Constant Reader, it was scary. But not scary enough.
I devoured The Shining, then picked up Carrie. And after that, I got The Stand out of the library before my family went away for a long August weekend.
We went to a friends summer house up in Maine. We’d been there hundreds of times — a beautiful, rustic home in the woods, just outside of town, and close enough to the ocean to smell the salt water. That house was in Ogunquit, home to Fran Goldsmith and Harold Lauder. And once I realized that part of this apocalyptic story was taking place in the very town I was in at that actual moment, I freaked out. I put the book down and was afraid to read it for about another year or more.
Fast forward to a visit to my cousins in Cape Cod and a rainy night at the beach. Looking though the bedrooms for a book to read, I came across a battered copy of The Stand — I guess all five of my cousins and all of their friends had read it and they told me it was THE BEST BOOK EVER.
So I tried again. And that was it. I was all in with this book. Scared beyond belief, but in love with the characters and the writing. I think I still have this dog-eared copy somewhere — it has no cover, and it’s expanded to about twice its size from being out at the beach so long, and half of the pages are falling out. But to me, it’s beautiful.
I’ve now read The Stand more than any other book. I’ve read the original and the expanded version several times over. When I’m sick, I put in the DVD of the miniseries. It’s my go-to comfort watch (Why? I have no idea. Doesn’t make a lick of sense.). And this year, when a bunch of other people posted their reviews of The Stand, I realized it had been about 10 years since my last read. So I ran over to Audible and snatched it up.
Here are some of my thoughts on the expanded audio version…
This was the first time I’ve re-read the book since having kids of my own, and I’m curious as to how motherhood may have changed some of my opinions. First of all, the first third of the book really affected me this time. The details of the superflu — how it spread and killed everyone in its path — upset and scared me to a much greater level this time. Not since my first attempt at The Stand did the death and sickness bother me this much. I thought of parents losing their children, and of children losing their families, and was pretty much upset for the first 8 hours of listening.
And the added scenes in this extended version, detailing the first round of survivors who ended up dying from other, non-flu related causes, depressed me too. The catholic father who jogged himself to death after his wife and 8 children died. The little boy who fell in a well while out eating berries in a field. The man who died of appendicitis while Stu Redman tried to operate on him in the middle of a field. These scenes bummed me out.
I didn’t hate Frannie as much this time, as I understood just how scared she must have been to be bringing a child into that new, bleak world. I still thought she and Stu were a completely boring couple that I didn’t particularly care about, this photo of Stu notwithstanding:
And strangely, I didn’t love Larry Underwood as much as I always did. Since I was 12 years old, Larry was my favorite character. I thought he was such a cool guy, and was always so impressed by his transformation into the “nice guy” he always wanted to be.
This time, he pretty much infuriated me. His idiocy out in Malibu before the flu outbreak, his strained relationship with his mother, the way he treated Rita and Lucy — Larry really bugged me. I still like the man he became by the end, and I’m sorry that poor Lucy never really got to know that man.
This time, I much preferred Nick and Tom Cullen.
No, not this nick:
But the Nick who was such a strong, brave young man. His kindness to the people he met in Arkansas and his love for Tom really spoke to me, and I can’t believe I never noticed how central he was to the story before. I used to get so annoyed that Mother Abigail would single Nick out as the leader of the Free Zone, but now I kind of get it.
And Tom Cullen is just the best. M-O-O-N, that spells the best. When Tom and Stu celebrated Christmas on their way home to Boulder, I definitely got a bit teary-eyed. Laws, yes.
Lastly, a quick shout-out to Ralph Brentner, who never gets the respect that he deserves as an important character. I wish we had gotten more of his backstory and learned how such a relatively simple man so quickly became one of Mother Abigail’s confidents and favored subjects.
Now that I’ve been actively re-reading all of the books in the Dark Tower “universe”, I’m starting to wonder about good old Randall Flagg. Yes, he’s scary, but he’s also so much more unhinged in this book than I remember from earlier readings.
Maybe it’s because I recently revisited the last Dark Tower book, in which
NO, REALLY, MASSIVE MASSIVE SPOILER…
Baby Mordred kills an absolutely insane Flagg. A Flagg so crazy, he’s wearing a tinfoil hat and simply rambling nonsense for his entire last scene.
The Flagg is the second half of The Stand is that crazy guy.
But the Flagg we see in other books, like The Gunslinger or The Eyes of the Dragon? He’s a quieter kind of scary. Less insane, and more like this guy:
I’m wondering which one is the real Flagg. I’m hoping it’s the latter, as the crazy one is more like a petulant little kid than an evil stand-in for Satan.
I have now realized that I much prefer the mini series versions of a few of the minor characters.
Lloyd mostly just annoys me in the book. But in the movie? Come on. Miguel Ferrer makes Lloyd worth watching. And if you have hours and hours to spare, he is a damn delight on the audio commentary, regaling with tales of how his cousin George Clooney would come to Vegas while they were filming and they hit up tons of strip clubs.
In the book, I mostly found Glen to be annoying and boorish. But movie Glen is Ray Walston, and he’s just so good, you can’t help but agree with all of his crazy, societal outlooks. And his amazing dog doesn’t hurt, either.
SPOILER, YET AGAIN
I had 100% forgotten that Glen decided to leave Kojak alone back in New Hampshire, and that sucked. I was so mad at Glen and Stu and Fran for letting that happen. Why couldn’t they find some way for Kojak to ride with them? A sidecar? That would have worked, right? I felt so bad for that dog as he made his way across the country, terrorized by wolves and other creatures under Flagg’s control. Screw you, Glen.
Harold Emery Lauder sucks both in the book and movie. I’ll give the slight edge to the movie, simply because Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.
Here’s a few things that really bugged me this time.
Glen and Judge Farris are REALLY OLD MEN, yet Glen is in his 50’s and the judge is maybe 70. They have arthritis and heart problems and can barely exist, and yet, Glen is only IN HIS 50s. He isn’t Mother Abigail, he’s a middle aged man. God, I guess I should sign up for AARP and get myself fitted for a walker.
There’s an uncomfortable amount of rape in the uncut version — some jokes about it, sometimes discussed or threatened, and some actually executed. Trash Can Man is raped by The Kid and his gun. Dana and Susan and their entire crew are held captive and raped repeatedly until rescued by Stu and Frannie. The woman who was so sure she would be raped the minute she stepped outside that she ended up blowing her own head off accidentally. Way too much.
There’s also a lot more sexism (are women smart enough to work in factories?) and racism (the all African-American platoon murdering soldiers on tv in Maine) in this uncut version. Maybe Uncle Stevie should have left it alone. Bigger isn’t always better.
Please note that I’ve literally said nothing at all about Mother Abigail, Nadine, or Trashcan Man. I just don’t care.
My main reason for the reread was because of my recent obsession with The Dark Tower. I wanted to see how this book fits in with the DT universe, not just because of good old Randy Flagg, who you may also know as Russell Faraday, Walter O’Dim, Marten Broadcloak, or Richard Fannin.
I remember being shocked (seriously) when I read The Wastelands, and discovered that the world of The Stand was not even our world, but a totally different level of the Tower, where people drank Nozz-o-la and drove Takuro Spirits. So this time through, I tried to pay attention to details that might clue me in as to what level of the Tower was being described…I still think it was originally written as our world. Enough people were drinking Coke and Coors and driving Fords and Chevys.
But check out the very last page, where I think we find the most telling link to the Tower , in which the Walking Dude is reborn and thinks the following:
“Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long. And it always, at the end, came round at the same place again.”
How’s that for ka?
So there you have it, my disjointed thoughts on The Stand, the book I’ve read more than any other. But its my Cannonball and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.