I stand up to Stephen King’s The Stand: Uncut Edition
I’m a big Stephen King fan. I’ve read a lot of his work. My favorites are probably his short story collections; Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, Four Past Midnight, etc.
As for his regular novels, I’ve read several, but my favorites would probably be Eyes of the Dragon and Misery. However, I had never conquered what is considered King’s magnum opus. I had never read The Stand. I can’t tell you why I never read it. There is probably a bit of intimidation in there, but nonetheless, it remained a hole in my King reading. I think it was my reading of The Gunslinger that kept me from reading The Stand. I hated The Gunslinger, but that’s a tale for another time.
Then Trish from Love, Laughter and Insanity decided to start up The Standalong. It was a group read-a-long of King’s The Stand. I thought, if I’m ever going to read this book, then it needs to be NOW. So I signed up and started reading the book on June 3. Here are my thoughts.
First the good, because I don’t want to just bitch. The book was well written with well written characters. There are many parts I found fascinating like the spread of Captain Trips, the devolution of society as it realizes everyone is dying. The rebuilding of society in the Boulder Free Zone. Flagg’s Las Vegas community. Those all were interesting and I enjoyed reading about them. However, the main fault of the book is that it’s too damn long.
I read the uncut version. I thought if I’m going to read this book, then I’ll read the original “author’s vision”. The uncut edition paperback I have is 1138 pages long. 1138 pages. I was reading it for the entire month of June. I had to stop around page 700 to read two other books as an intermission because, like I said, this book is just too damn long. It’s exhausting to read, especially considering the type of story.
Like I said the book was well written with good characters, but I just didn’t really connect with any character. Well, I take that back, I liked Nick and Tom Cullen. I really liked Tom Cullen, especially when you see more of him at the end. I also liked Larry later on in the book, but really didn’t like him in the beginning. And I was a little annoyed with Stu and Fran. There was way too much sappy, puppy love between them and the constant mentioning of their sex life was out of control. I get it. They are in love. You don’t need to draw me a map.
But, back to the story’s length. I still say King needs a really good editor because he tends to follow rat holes that sometimes work, but sometimes just do nothing. We had nearly 100 pages devoted to back story for Mother Abigail and none of it was ever referenced again. And none of that, I felt, was really needed by the time you reach the end. Many of the introductions of the characters are overly long. Larry’s story was like a novel unto itself. The exodus to Boulder seemed to take FOREVER. Once everyone got there, though, I enjoyed it.
Next, the devolution of society during the outbreak. That was probably another 100+ pages or so in which we just get beat over the head with how bad things are and how horrible people are acting towards other people. It was depressing. And it just kept going on and on and on. A few judicious trims in these sections would have made for a better novel, in my opinion.
Now, the ending. And there’s going to be spoilers, so just get over it. This book has three endings. ”The Stand” of the title happens in Las Vegas. You’ve read over 1000+ pages to get to this mythical standoff with Randall Flagg and it all ends <SPOILER, DAMMIT> in a disappointing nuclear bomb explosion that kills almost everyone</ SPOILER>. And the nuclear explosion wasn’t even caused by the people that went to Vegas to take “The Stand”. It was caused by Flagg accidentally igniting a bomb that Trashcan Man stupidly drove right into the heart of the city. WHAT? REALLY? No big standoff? No big moment for Larry to be the “stand up guy”? Everything just goes BOOM because Flagg got careless? Hm.
So that ending was disappointing. Ending #2 involves a surprisingly not dead Stu trying to get back to Boulder to see Fran give birth to the baby. And he hooks back up with Tom. This ending helped redeem some of the disappointment of the Vegas affair. Ending #2 is fun to watch Stu and Tom survive the Southwest winter and rely on each other to make it back to Boulder. It ends with Stu and Fran deciding to leave the Free Zone and head back to Maine with the baby, living on the road on their own for a while. Then Ending #3 happens with the supposed resurrection of Flagg which, seems to me to completely undermine the sacrifices of Larry and the others in their quest to confront Flagg. So back to disappointment.
So now, at the other end of the book I’m a little disappointed. I actually had trouble reading a book for a few weeks afterward while I digested my reading of The Stand. I’m of two minds. King is a great writer. He writes good characters and the stories he envisions, especially in this book, are epic and I appreciate that. Unfortunately for me, this book couldn’t live up to the epic, sprawling tale King wanted. The ending fell completely flat and I had to wonder why I made the long ass journey for what I got in the end.
I won’t say this was a bad book. It wasn’t. For me, it was just disappointing. I see why people like it, and if I had read this back in high school or college, I’d probably be totally in love with it. But reading The Stand today, I just felt the journey wasn’t worth the destination. If I ever read it again, I’ll read the edited version. But I honestly think this book would have been better around 6-700pgs. I was feeling “story weary” around page 800.