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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