Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 1,328
Okay. Wow. Where to start. I guess the first thing to mention is the length of this review. If you’re familiar with my site at all then you’ll already know that each of my reviews has the same number of words as the book has pages, which means this is going to be a 1,328 word whopper. Explaining this took up less than 10% of my word count.
The Stand is Stephen King’s most epic book, at least in terms of its overall word count. At almost half a million words, it’s 50,000 words longer than It, its closest competitor. I haven’t read It yet, and the only time I’ve come close to this length was with Under the Dome, which I also gave five stars to. But if anything, I liked this book better.
It’s almost like a play, with the action occurring across three acts. I can’t go into too much detail about the later acts, because that will give too much away, but I can at least touch on various elements of the story line. Essentially, it’s a great American plague story, following the events that unfold after a super flu wipes out 99.8% of the world’s population. The initial third of the book – the first act – deals with the initial aftermath, and it’s almost like a novel version of a disaster movie. Quite simply, it’s fricken awesome.
This also helps to set up the back stories of the primary characters, and while it might seem a little confusing from time to time to begin with, it’s worth sticking to. That’s because we get to see to them what happens after the initial onslaught of the flu, and that largely forms the basis of Acts II and III. That’s joined by a classic story of good versus evil, with iconic, deity-like figures on both the sides of good and evil, whether we’re talking about Mother Abigail or the Walkin Dude.
As always, King’s characterisation is top notch, and despite the fact that there are a couple of dozen key players that you’ll want to keep your eye on, it’s not difficult to understand who’s who and what’s happening. Even the minor characters are well thought out, with their own little back stories that help to explain their actions, especially once they start to get erratic once the pull is felt between the sides of good and evil.
Honestly, I find it hard to fault The Stand. Oh, sure, it’s a long old read, but I enjoyed it so much that I powered through the whole thing in a week or so. It can be difficult to hold, unwieldy and a pain in the ass to carry around. But it’s also hugely rewarding, and one of my favourite reads in the last eighteen months or so. It’s got that Stephen King magic to it, and it’s hard not to get absorbed in his realistic depiction of the end of the world.
Even the little things have been thought about. For example, after the initial wave of deaths, there’s a smaller wave in which a reasonably sized percentage of the remaining population manages to kill itself. Junkies taking too many drugs. People having heart attacks with no emergency services to treat them. One woman accidentally locks herself in a refrigeration unit that only opens from the outside. And another interesting aspect was the odds of survival for the human race into the future – what about unborn babies? If immunity to the super flu isn’t genetic, then will newborn babies die when they leave the room? And will they even last that long?
Those are questions that plague Fran, one of the book’s good guys (gals?). Other characters include minor celebrity Larry Underwood, who’s just had his first hit record, a ‘retard boy‘ called Tom Cullen who’s almost an idiot savant, and a deaf mute called Nick, who was my favourite. Nick can lip read and communicate by writing little notes down, and it was great to see that represented – especially because he was awesome.
Now, I’ve read perhaps half of King’s bibliography by now, and I’m planning on working my way through the rest of it. I can’t quite decide whether this is my favourite book so far – I think it might be, but I don’t know if I want to commit myself. There are just so many other books by the same author. What I will say, though, is that I’d recommend this ahead of the Dark Tower series, even though I highly recommend that too. It’ll take you less time overall, and it’s arguably faster paced and a little more gripping.
Slightly over five hundred words to go. You see how it can start to feel a little bit like running a marathon? Just looking at the length of the review should give you a good idea of what you’re getting into. Don’t even attempt it unless you know that you can stick with a long book without getting bored and trying to read something else. The last thing you want is to sink into a reading slump, especially when you’ve got a book this good in your hands, ready for you to crack on with it.
It’s also interesting to note how long it took King to write it – thirteen years, according to the dates that he included at the end, as is his custom. The funny thing about that is that the book itself, though epic, takes place during just a fraction of that. I also found it interesting that King created a disease that he himself would almost certainly have died of, if it had actually happened. It has some similarities with the zombie novel, except that at least you can defend yourself against a zombie. But if you’re not immune to the superflu, there’s nothing you can do. You might as well just lie in bed and wait to die.
And there’s something else. Now, this might seem like a minor detail, but those minor details start to add up when you commit to a book as long as this. One of the strengths of this book is the way that King not only captures the initial panic as the virus spreads but also nails the aftermath, when vehicles are abandoned, corpses start to rot in the cities and anyone can have any damn thing they want, just by smashing a shop’s windows.
Overall then, The Stand is just one of those books that makes literature itself all the richer simply by the fact of its existence. It’s a long old read, all right, but it’s totally worth reading all the same. I’ve never read a book that’s quite like this, and while it gave me even more respect for Stephen King, it’s even more notable for just blowing my mind and making me realise that my idea of what a book is was incomplete. You don’t realise that something like this exists until you’re forced to confront it.
I’d been putting off starting The Stand for a while, but now that I’ve finished it, I’m not sure what the fuss was about. In fact, I found myself wishing that it would continue, and feeling as though I could have read a little more of it. It’s rare for that to happen to begin with, and for it to happen like this is not just surprising – it’s almost unbelievable.
So if you think you can handle the kind of read that might just change your life, but that will take up a chunk of your time to get through it, you can’t do much better than this. And better still, I can’t see something like this ever being repeated – as an author myself, I have no choice but to look at it, hold my hands up and say, “I have no idea how he did it.”