Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Stand (1978)

I saw some list awhile back that ranked Stephen King's books—he's up to over 60 now. I was only a little surprised to see The Stand top the list, which did not specify an edition: either the ginormous edition originally published or the unexpurgated edition that added some 400 more pages to that, evidently after King had won the authorial clout to add back requested editorial cuts. I've only got the first version; I understand the longer version isn't that much of an improvement. I also happened to be watching Twin Peaks AND The Lord of the Rings at the time, so I had my hands full with fantastical showdowns between good and evil. King's mammoth novel starts with a super-flu virus that wipes out better than 99% of the human population on the planet. All in itself that qualifies as a staggering vision. The survivors sort themselves into Team Good (headed up by a centenarian African American woman known as Mother Abagail, who lives in Nebraska) and Team Evil, headed up by a demon known as Randall Flagg, the Walkin Dude. Team Evil is headquartered in Las Vegas (of course) and Team Good in Boulder, Colorado. The to-do list for the novel is giant, starting with wiping out most human beings. Thus a lot of the action is devoted to setting up the many, many pieces—there are dozens of significant characters—and putting them through their paces. It was a page-turning thrill ride my first time through but has been relatively more sedate since. In fact, I've only managed to get all the way through it again once (hence the real reason for my reluctance to go for the bigger version). As with all of the King I've read it's as compulsively readable as you'd ever want the first time. After that you start to see how he does it more—it's often a matter of repetition, stroking out the main points like brushing an animal. I have no quarrel whatsoever with calling him the master of horror literature for our times—also its best critic. King is good at striking the affable tone that draws you in and stands by all the way as your friend, alternating more secretly with the creep who will say and do anything to get a rise out of you. His imagination truly is fiendish and almost all of his stuff I know, not least The Stand, manages to unnerve me one way or another. The difference in The Stand is that it is on such an epic, colossal scale. If you don't know it yet, as the saying goes, I envy you. Try the big version.

In case it's not at the library.

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