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?