Friday, May 7, 2010

The Stand - (Book Review)

When I first picked up a copy of Stephen King’s, The Stand - The Complete and Uncut Edition, in my local Borders Book Store, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for. The book is more than an inch and a half thick and over 1100 pages long. I am still in the middle of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and those books themselves are pretty long, especially Wizard and Glass. But those seem to pale in comparison to the scope that this one novel tries to cover.

The story was great despite its minor shortcomings. A super virus destroys most of mankind and what’s left are various survivors trying to pull themselves together in a world of emptiness and destruction. The apocalyptic terrain that King created in this book is absolutely amazing. The loneliness the characters felt was loneliness that I felt right along with them. Death is around every corner, the corpses of people hit by the virus hiding in dark houses, along littered highways wrought with steel coffins. They are everywhere, a continuous reminder that life is so incredibly fragile.

The book is separated into three parts. The first part seems to be completely designed to introduce most if not all of the characters and their dreams - either of ‘the Dark Man,’ Randall Flagg, who is calling those with an impure heart to Las Vegas - or of Mother Abigail, a 108 year old black woman, who is calling those of a good heart to an old shack in Nebraska. The second part of the book describes the set up of Vegas and of Boulder, Colorado - the location that Mother Abigail moves her people to. Most of this section is about Mother Abigail’s group and how they enforce law and set up a committee and various other establishments that fell during the apocalyptic outbreak. The third part is the final stand off between good and evil, between the main characters from Mother Abigail’s group and Randall Flagg’s group.

There are so many characters in the story that I’m not going to bother listing them. My favorite was Nick Andros, the deaf mute. The characters were real, they were creative, and they were brilliantly brought forth on the pages of the book. Even when a character was only in the book for a page or two, they felt so incredibly dynamic. The reactions that each character has to the world that is falling apart around them was right on and I could tell that King put some time and energy into making sure of that.

What I love about Stephen King’s writing as I read more of his books is the way he ties in characters from one series into another. Randall Flagg is also the main protagonist in the Dark Tower series and I think he is one of the best villains I have read. He is the embodiment of pure evil, the very core of what is wrong with the world. That being said, I was a bit disappointed with the ending of the book. It felt very anticlimactic. When I expected a final showdown between the characters and one of the darkest beings the world has ever seen, I was bummed at how Randall Flagg was actually taken out of the picture. On top of that, some of the epilogue-style ending chapters seemed to serve no real purpose. I do agree that King should have had the basis of those chapters in the novel in some capacity, seeing how the reader ends up investing so much time into the book, but I think he could have done without some of the long, drawn out scenes he used.

This leads me to the biggest complaint I have about the novel: King has too much exposition in some parts of the book. I understand that uncut means uncut, but I’ve noticed the same thing about King in some of the Dark Tower books as well. There’s just too much description about things that don’t really progress the novel or carry the storyline further ahead.

Another complaint I have about the book is the uneven scenes. I would read very long chapters about one particular character only to get to the next chapter about another character and find the story has backtracked to run parallel with the chapter before it. This made me have to stop and figure out where I was exactly - chronologically speaking - in the book. I think the chapters could have been leveled out a little more evenly and the pace tuned up a bit.

All in all, The Stand is phenomenal and a definite must-read before dying. Put it on your bucket list. Just don’t purchase the uncut edition in paperback if you get headaches easily. The version I purchased from my local Borders had an extremely small font which only allowed me to read it in intervals. I probably would have been better off buying the eBook version and reading it on my computer.

I give the book four and a half stars out of five.

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