So I’m done reading Stephen King’s The Stand

Funny enough, this last week while I finished reading The Stand, I caught a common spring cold. Thanks to the powers that be I didn’t wind up getting swollen throat glands–I may have become a slight bit paranoid in regards to physical health. Of course, the amount of time spent on ensuring good health in The Stand is bound to make anyone a bit nutty (something I commented on last time, too).

Okay, so, I’m done reading. My verdict? Unless you’re a hardcore King fan, or a hardcore conspiracy or apocalypse fan, skip this title. You can see my review on the first two thirds of the book in my last post, so in this one I’ll focus on why the ending drew more of a negative response from me.

My first problem with the ending is that, despite having 1200 pages, the book has no central active conflict. Run through the ‘basic’ conflict structures (person vs person, person vs environment, etc) and each will have some representation. The main characters have some minor conflicts among each other, they have reservations about the supernatural dreams they’ve been having, they’re trying to survive various places, they’re trying to get the power back on, and in the case of Larry–trying to see himself as a better human being. However, none of these have a driving active element once they meet Mother Abigail. The only unifying theme is this ‘epic’ struggle of the Free Zone versus the Las Vegas group–a good versus evil set up. That plot becomes passive because the characters take no action to alter any events. Mother Abigail tells them to go, and not to take anything with them, and the four men (of course it had to be all men, despite Fran being part of the ‘important’ people of the Free Zone) accept this as God’s word. They undertake the journey because they were told to take it. That late in the novel, the characters should have had desires that pointed them in that direction. Instead, they’re cruising along, trying to get the Free Zone in order, a bomb explodes and then Mother Abigail gives an order. I didn’t feel that any of the characters had weight in their own choices, especially Stu and Ralph who were characters that pretty much did as the others suggested anyway.

Another problem is that the characters don’t take the opportunity to grow. A few of them get tiny new buds to their personality, but there’s no major alteration to any of them. Stu only becomes a slightly more talkative person, but he’s basically the same East Texan. Glen never shuts up about sociological ideas and still hesitates around ‘white magic.’ Larry struggles with how he sees himself the whole way through. The only two characters that have a seeable change is Leo, who returns to being a little boy and less of a feral potential killer, and Fran, who becomes more irrational as time goes on. (Oh, and Fran’s reasons are often seen by others and then herself as irrational rantings of a pregnant woman. Too much is blamed on her pregnancy.)

In fact, the book goes out of its way to make the point that even society doesn’t change–that the Free Zone is developing exactly along the lines that Glen Bateman predicted and may easily create the exact same problems of the old world within a few generations. Not exactly encouraging stuff.

I will remember the last scenes for years to come simply because I’m disappointed. Larry, Ralph, and Glen just all go ‘okay, ready to die for God ’cause I have faith in the old woman’ and Trashcan Man kills everyone with an atom bomb? All so that Randall Flagg winds up waking up somewhere else, becoming someone else, and starting all over again? If anything, the point of this novel becomes “the song remains the same.” While a totally valid point to make, it’s not one I find myself enjoying.

Add the unsatisfying ending to the problems I pointed out in the last post, and the book definitely joins my ‘don’t actively recommend’ list. Besides the paranoia of health, I did pick up a few ideas about how to write characters who have so much built in hate. As a writer, I think that’s the one really good lesson to learn from The Stand. Some characters simply hate that much.

The next books I’m reading are The Mists of Avalon and The Twentieth Wife. One of the two will be next week’s entry. Happy reading and writing!

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So I’m reading Stephen King’s The Stand…

Stephen King’s The Stand is an extremely long book, even before they went back in and added even more pages. I’d read through a series of shorter novels and decided to tackle this mammoth because it comes up in horror reading lists (as most King books do). I’ve read Misery, Salem’s Lot, Dead Zone, and the short story “The Colorado Kid” before, and usually like King’s work. (The final scene of Misery will always terrify me). I’m two-thirds through The Stand and I have to admit, I’m on the fence about this one. Like any work, this one has its strengths and weaknesses.

In my review of Oleander House, I pointed out that one of the most important aspects of a horror novel is atmosphere. As readers, we need to be drowned in the book’s reality in order to keep us turning the pages. The Stand does exactly that. While the novel labors for hundreds of pages about the plague that is taking out mankind, the effect is profound. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who’s gotten a little buggy about flu or cold symptoms while reading it.

Even this late point of the novel, there’s not much rhyme or reason as to why certain people were spared from the flu. It wiped out so many people and not everyone who survived the infection continues to live. Survivors have died from other causes–there’s a whole chapter about how a series of people we meet only once in order to watch them die. Though it drags the pace of the novel down, this is once again done for effect. A reminder that survivor does not mean immortal nor brilliant (since some of these die from very preventable reasons).

So far, I’ve got two major problems with novel: lack of diversity and the misogyny. As far as I can tell, a majority of the people spared from the super-flu are white. The good guy camp has three notable characters of color–Mother Abigail, Ralph, and Joe/Leo. (When it comes to Joe/Leo, we are constantly reminded about his Chinese eyes… over and over and over. As if the reader can’t be trusted to remember that particular detail about Joe/Leo). Otherwise, the characters are white, white, and white. Women versus men proportions seem to be nearer to equal than some texts. So far though, I haven’t seen any signs of an LGBT+ character. We do hear about Mother Abigail’s age and how that inhibits getting around, and we have seen how Nick Andros struggles with his deafness and muteness in this apocalyptic world.

Right now, the good guys are pretty much in easy agreement with each other. They don’t argue much about what needs to be done–perhaps because they’re all too similar. The disagreements tend to be camp versus camp, and they haven’t even met.

The misogyny is laced in so many ways–from the obvious Harold Lauder’s possessive ideas about Fran Goldsmith to the minor details, like a male character ‘screaming like a woman.’ Some of this can be attributed to the timeframe written—at least, I’m willing to blame the ’70’s culture King was writing for (Despite the couple of updates done over the years to the time frame of the story, the overall prose reflects the original writing era more than later ones). However, that doesn’t mean I have to swallow it down without saying something. The micro-aggressions are still present in modern day American cultures, so seeing them isn’t a shock, just annoying. At some point, it’d be great that the micro-aggressions would be harder to find than equal representation.

While The Stand has several women in the main cast, each one relies heavily upon men. The women of the story are subject to internalized misogyny–some of them at least. Nadine Cross, for example, places a heavy importance on her virginity. It seems one part story element and one part cultural obsession. The ‘dark man’, as Nadine thinks of Randall Flagg (many others do too), has apparently been this presence in the back of Nadine’s mind her whole life. She has been saving herself for this stranger because her virginity is of importance to him. The Stand has a strong evil versus good plot that King frames in Christian terms–and it’s no secret that Christianity has long put the emphasis on virginity (and I know they’re not the only ones. It’s simply the most relevant to this work).

On a reflective note, the societies developing at this point in the novel remind me of Asimov’s Foundation series. The First Foundation focuses on technological advances (the “hard” sciences) while the Second Foundation pursues societal achievements, which includes psychic abilities. The Stand‘s two societies don’t follow perfect suit. Both groups are rebuilding their technologies, but the approach is different. For the Flagg camp, they have their solitary, charismatic leader who is driving his people into technological assets. in Boulder, they look to push for a ‘democratic’–how democratic is it when certain leaders decide they’re the ones who should keep leading?–council and they keep their focus on surviving. Mostly, the reminder of Asimov is something about how the groups talk about each other, and probably a just me thing. It feels like an echo across a canyon instead of an inspired connection.

One more thought: The character of Glen Bateman has a habit of long talks about the nature of how society works. Or, as he put, it worked. Honestly, I wind up glazing over most of these speeches. They still have some reflective value for today’s society workings, but I wonder why Glen has to go on for so long, or for so long in the middle. The speeches drag the pace of the chapters to a halt in an already slow paced work.

Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts. I’m hoping to like the book more than I do at the moment, but I’m not seeing too much hope for it. However, I’ve got to admit, I know it’s had a change on me. One of the characters, Harold Lauder, spends so much time on his hate. He’s become one of those little reminders that I wanted to let more of those negative thoughts go from my mind. So now I’m making an effort of letting go of some of that hate and anger that gets backlogged. You never know what you’ll learn from reading a book, huh?