Friday, May 7, 2010

The Stand (Complete and Uncut)

Well, after over three weeks of reading, I'm finally finished with "The Stand." This is the complete and uncut version, and the book is basically three books rolled into one. It was one thousand, one hundred, and forty-one pages long. I have to admit, this book definitely felt like an epic adventure (it would have to for me to spend nearly a month reading it).

First of all, let me begin this entry by saying I don't typically like post apocalyptic stories. But, since I'm trying to read almost all of Stephen King's novels, particularly stories that are related to "The Dark Tower" series, I decided I needed to read this one as well. I bought the book when I was in high school and never got around to reading it, mostly due to it's length. I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment that I finished this book despite my preconceived ideas about post apocalyptic fiction, and I did mostly enjoy it.

For those of you who don't know, "The Stand" is about the aftermath of a biologically engineered plague from the United States, a very horrible mutating version of the flu. By a freak accident, this biological weapon is set loose on the world, starting with the US. The first book introduces us to the main characters (a small group of people whose later actions will ensure the survival or the downfall of society), and the immediate aftermath of what's going on; the chaos, the gore, the lawlessness, and the eerie quiet caused by most of the population dying.

The second book is about the journey of these people. They start having strange dreams about a kind old woman called Mother Abigail that is telling them to come and meet her first in Nebraska and later in Boulder, Colorado, and a terrifying man, Randall Flagg, who causes them nightmares and is clearly starting a settlement in the West at what remains of Las Vegas. All of the survivors of the plague are drawn to either Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg depending on what they value. Most of the survivors form a large settlement in Boulder, Colorado, while, meanwhile, most of those drawn to Randall Flagg are collecting weapons to unleash on Mother Abigail's settlement to kill off the survivors.

The third book is about the four main characters compelled by fate to meet Flagg head on, to make a stand against him.

As you can see, I tried very hard not to leave any spoilers in my plot summary, though, I did spoil the fact that Randall Flagg is involved. My apologies, but that seemed important and it is a, 'Oh wow!' moment to figure out that he's such an integral character in the plot. Truthfully, though, I didn't really get into the book until about book two when he first emerged, so I'm hoping this ahead of time knowledge will get you to read it as well. I also tried to be as brief as possible. I could go into the lives of each and every character, but that would take far longer than you'd care to read. (There are at least twenty one important characters in this book, also several less important characters as well.) The point is, I don't feel I need to do that to tell you the pluses and minuses of this book.

One of the best things about this book was each of the characters changed throughout the story. Some of the main characters weren't very likable when they started out, but got much better as the book progressed. Likewise, some of the "bad guys" in the story were sympathetic characters by the end of the book. Also, some likable characters in the beginning eventually became less sympathetic. One of Stephen King's strong points is the way he creates believable, dynamic, characters. And, once again, he didn't disappoint about that aspect in this book.

One of the things I didn't like about the story, however, was that it did drag on too long. Even though I understand why he put so much detail into the story's setting, obviously to paint a picture of a post-apocalyptic world, it actually bored me. There was one chapter about people who randomly died after the plague (things like accidentally shooting themselves, a child falling down a well, etc.). And, while again I understand the reasoning behind the chapter (this was to show that the plague wasn't the only thing that killed people and there was a great deal of random death afterward), I nearly put the book down at that point. The book was so depressing as it was that hearing about more random death didn't do anything for me and I became bored with the concept, sort of like a person turning off the news when they hear nothing but bad news for too long.

Still, I don't attribute the fact that I was reading the uncut version to why the story felt like it was droning on. I think it was just the way it was written. There was just too much detail. After you see one highway clogged with cars that have become coffins for the dead passengers inside of them, you feel like you've seen them all--wow, that's a strange concept, but true. He describes many scenes that just seem the exact same as the scene before it. The eeriness of going through a totally dark tunnel is explored in one particular scene early in the book, so when this happens again, I don't need a recap. It was things like that that made the book seem longer than it actually was.

The last complaint I have is a minor one. My favorite character died like a chump (in other words, in a quick and pointless way) at least three hundred pages from the end. I won't spoil anything by telling you who, but I will say most of the main characters do die by the end of this book. In fact, I was disappointed by the ones who survived because oddly, most of them were my least favorite. There was one that was one of my favorites that survived too, but when you're attached to four or five characters, and all of them but one die, it's kind of a downer. It also makes the rest of the book seem slow because you don't care as much about the characters that made it. I'm just telling you so that you are prepared when you read it, for the sacrifices at the end.

Other than that, this was a very good book. Like I said, since I don't like post-apocalyptic fiction typically, you know it has to be good to keep my attention to the end. By the end of this book I felt like I had walked in the character's shoes and knew all of the characters very well. This was probably the most satisfying story that I've ever read because almost all of the loose ends were tied up and it didn't leave me wondering much, and it was so long that finishing it felt literally like finishing a journey, which is very appropriate for this story.

Still, the story does end on a huge down note, since (and I'm not spoiling anything by saying this if you are a Stephen King fan) Randall Flagg survives. Also, I hated the last line about "Do you you think people ever learn anything," when the remaining character is asking if people will basically learn not to pollute the earth again since the earth is "recovering" from mankind's influence. It was so environmentally PC that it made me throw up in my mouth a little. Plus, the line came out of nowhere to me because the book mostly up until this point seemed to be about people killing other people, rather than the impact of man on the environment. But still, like I said, this is a good book and if you've got the time, you should read it. It starts out a little slow, but by the end you won't be able to put it down.

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