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The Stand

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an incredible achievement! I can see why THE STAND is a favorite for many Stephen King fans. As with his other lengthy masterpiece IT, the strength here is in the characters as much as anything else. There are many, many characters in THE STAND, some more memorable than others, but all of them interesting. I think the two I was most fascinated by were Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might not have read THE STAND yet, but these two characters have such memorably tragic arcs, half due to their own bad decisions and half due to simple, ugly destiny, that they really stuck out for me. Of course, I loved Stu and Glen and Frannie, too! (My feelings about Larry Underwood are more complicated, although he certainly proved himself to be a better person by the end.)

I even had some sympathy for poor old Trashcan Man, and that’s something that speaks to the strength of King’s abilities as a writer. He populates Randall Flagg’s Las Vegas not just with madmen and criminals, as you might imagine a stronghold of evil to be, but with lots of characters who are worthy of sympathy, even more than Trashcan Man is. King seems to be saying that even decent people can make the wrong choice or be caught up in the grinding wheels of fate. If there’s one sin the denizens of Las Vegas might share, however, it’s cowardice, as even those who have a moral compass and know Flagg is a monster are too scared to do anything about it, and so they blindly follow his orders, swallowing their consciences one bit at a time.

As riveted as I was by the novel in general, a section in the middle dragged for me, the part when Stu and the others are setting up committees and a rudimentary governmental system for the Free Zone. But even that has an important role to play later, and one could say THE STAND is really far more about the journey than the destination.

The edition I read was the original Signet paperback from 1980, so old and well-loved that its cover is held together with Scotch tape at this point, but I loved the novel enough that I think someday I might check out the “complete and uncut” edition that came out in 1990. I certainly wouldn’t mind spending time with these characters again.

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