Riding With The King: The Stand (1978)

the-stand-stephen-king-2 You’ve seen my write a million times that I’m a slow reader. Sometimes a book will grab me, though, and I roll right through it, no matter the length. That’s the experience I had reading Stephen King’s Under The Dome and even the much shorter Dolores Claiborne, but nowhere near what happened with The Stand.

Looking back, it took me a while to get through Gerald’s Game and then I started reading this one BACK IN MAY. Sure, it’s an exceptionally long book — up there with Dome as the longest I’ve ever read — but I kept finding myself distracted by comics, TV, movies and a few other books like Clive Barker’s Inhuman Condition and Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value.

Part of that is my natural desire to want to absorb as much as possible, but it’s also got a lot of meandering parts that did not keep my interest. In fact, the only way I was able to finish thins one in the five or so months it took was by splitting time between the hard copy, the digital copy (which cost $7 more than the used book I bought at a flea market) and an audiobook that helped me power through the last few hundred pages.

So here’s the deal with The Stand if you haven’t read it before. It’s about a bunch of people who survive a super flu called Captain Tripps that wipes out most of the population. Broken into three sections, the first introduces us to most of the important characters in their pre-plague lives and then how they dealt with the actual disastrous event. Most of them start traveling around, propelled by dreams of an old woman named Mother Abigail or a dark man dubbed Randall Flagg. Eventually all the good people join up and head to Colorado while all the bad people meet in Vegas and the two come into conflict. Obviously, given the girth of this book, there’s a lot more going on, but that’s the gist.

King first published this book in 1978 and then re-released it in 1990 with 400 more pages, a new decade (from 1980 to 1990) and illustrations by legendary comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. I’m still not sure how I feel about reading the extended version. I appreciate that King wanted to add back in the parts he felt compelled to cut the first time around, but I’m just not sure how necessary the Trashcan Man’s journey is, especially the parts with The Kid.

I remember while reading Dome, I wondered what the point of all these little side stories was, but to my memory, they all came back into play at some point. On the other hand, with The Stand, it felt like so many of these things we spent so much time with wound up not really mattering.

This will get a bit spoilery, consider yourself warned. I already mentioned all the Kid stuff which is pretty much pointless. By that time we already knew how messed up TCM was, we didn’t need yet ANOTHER reason that ultimately doesn’t come into play except for a little nod later on when the good guys head to Vegas. I’m also not sure why we spent SO MUCH TIME talking about Mother Abigail when she ultimately acts as a homing beacon with a message. She’s obviously important, but is all that stuff about her history important? These might sound like quibbles and maybe they are, but I feel like you should respect your reader and their time and I’m not sure that’s the case here.

And yet, I really like the story! Post-apocalyptic stuff is so fun, especially because it acts as a time capsule for the era it was written in, but also comes up with fun and interesting ways to deal with society. King kills at this. He’s also a master of making me like a disparate group of characters who eventually find their way to one another. I even liked some of the bad ones!

the-stand-stephen-king-1Here’s a question for people who have read both versions, do you think the expanded one greatly adds to the story? I’m very curious about this because, even though I liked the ending and finished the book a few weeks back, the main feeling resonating through me right now is, “why the hell did it have to be so long?”

Anyway, I’m taking a bit of a King break…sort of. Actually, I’m just moving to a different person in the family and finally checking out his son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. After that, I’m thinking of moving on to The Tommyknockers.

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