Last night, at 2:30 in the morning, over a month and a half after I opened the first page, I finished Stephen King’s The Stand.
I know, I know. About time.
The Stand wasn’t the first novel I read by King. Salem’s Lot was (and I think, no matter how many books I read by him, it will always be my favorite). I’ve also snuck in Firestarter. And out of the three I’ve read, I think The Stand might actually be my least favorite.
Now, let me explain, interrupting you as you choke in disbelief and try to stutter out the label “heretic”. I know it seems weird. I’m about to bash King. Not only King, but the work that is known as his greatest work (though he doesn’t claim it to be). And that’s not to say there weren’t elements of this book I enjoyed profusely (I’ll get to those in a moment). But it took me almost two months to read this book. I’m a fast reader. My To-Read list doesn’t have time for me to focus my efforts on a single book for two months. To make matters more complicated, I did enjoy the book…for the first one hundred pages and then from pages five hundred and on.
You see, I got the “complete and uncut” edition of the book. It was 1,141 pages long. And I’m not scared away by big books. I inhale Martin as naturally–and quickly–as I do oxygen and Rothfuss is one of my top authors (GO READ HIM). And those gents don’t do short books. Yet with The Stand, I felt it dragged on. The beginning was fantastic. The setting was described so distinctly and so deliberately, it was impossible not to picture exactly what King had in mind and lean back in awe at his knowledge and research. I got to the point where someone would cough and my natural response was to either run or shoot them. Seriously. One day, I was reading it before Captain Trips even had that name and my nose started running. I was sitting in a rocking chair and as I sniffled, I froze. And I knew, deep down, that it was the end. Soon, I’d be dead. So I enjoyed this book, immensely. Let me keep that straight.
Yet it became very easy to put the book down, as people continued to die and I was waiting to find out what the point was, often wondering if everyone was going to die and that was it. I was waiting to understand the main conflict, which I didn’t truly know until I reach around page 500-600ish, and I started to truly learn about Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg. Once I reached that point, I was set. I read the second half of the book over this past weekend. I was hooked. Spoilers after this sentence. You have been warned. When the Zone sent Tom to spy, my heart hurt. My heart was destroyed when Nick, my favorite character, wasn’t just killed, but murdered. And when Kojak and Tom saved Stu, I was so excited.
So my claim that this wasn’t my favorite King book to read was in no way a diss or a suggestion that you shouldn’t read if, it you are one of the few souls living under that rock (you should come out, like I did; what an adventure). You should definitely read it. Like I already mentioned, the paranoia is unreal. There are one-liners that gave me chills and a wide-range of characters that you’ll grow to love and hate. I loved the wide range of topics that were addressed and I was particularly fond of how, while the main plot was a battle between good and evil, the line between those two camps blurred, as I loved and hated characters on both sides. I rooted for both and the characters did, too. I think the reason I didn’t like it as much as I could have liked it is simply due to when I read it. I read it directly after finishing the whirlwind known as Brent Weeks and any book is hard to follow after that, and live up to what he does. I’m also very heavily into fantasy and science fiction as my genres of choice, so reading King was a break from that–despite it being labeled as a post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy, I felt it more fiction than the fantasy I typically read. I found myself eager to return back to my usual genre yet determined to finish this book.
Regardless of whether or not I liked this book, even before I started it, I knew it would always have a special relationship with me that no other book ever would. My Dad is someone I love very much, but aside from sports, we don’t get a chance to bond much. Being an out-of-the-closet nerd, reading is one of my passions. My Dad doesn’t read–can’t stay awake for it. But in his youth, he was an avid reader and King was one of his favorite authors. The Stand was one of his favorite books. He told me for months I should read it, when I’d try to tell him about the latest cliffhanger I nearly slipped off of or the gruesome details I thought he’d appreciate from the latest book I was devouring. Always, he turned the conversation back to The Stand. And despite being curious about the book that stayed with him for so long, I always found another book to read instead, despite his suggestions.
Last Christmas, my Dad actually went to the bookstore and bought me a copy. He told me after I opened it that the clerk almost gave it to him for free, due to its condition. “We shouldn’t be able to sell this,” he said. The other clerk piped in: “It means it’s well-loved.” My Dad said he smiled at her, claiming that was something I would say. He was right. The frayed edges, the spotty back-cover that was missing half the words, the ripped corners, all of it was great, because my Dad had went out and bought me a book for Christmas. A book he knew I would love–or, at least, wanted me to–because he loved it. And as I finally found time to read it starting over Spring Break, the book’s condition only worsen, until we were driving to a baseball tournament this weekend and the book slid off the dashboard and, in a mad attempt to catch it, I ripped the cover cleaned off, with over 300 pages still left to read. And my Dad just laughed. Well loved, indeed.
The best part was, as I started reading it, my Dad would ask me about it. He would ask if I made it to Trashcan Man’s part yet; what I thought of Harold; telling me I’d love Mother Abigail. Even though he’d read it 25-30 years ago, there were certain details he’d remember–like the burning of the pension check–that he loved to talk to me about, even though I had to remind him of most of the major details. He even turned down the radio from Sports Talk so I could tell him about how upset I was that my favorite character was murdered. My Dad and I don’t normally get to do that. And while the entire time I was reading, I was eager to move on to the always-growing stack of library books, I’m sad I finished it, because I won’t get to do that with my Dad again. And Mr. King, I’ll be forever grateful for you for giving my Dad and I the source to a closer connection for the past month and a half. Thank you.
Like I said, if you haven’t read The Stand, it’s a classic you need to. The one-liners and characters you get too-invested in are worth the paranoria and creepy dreams featuring Randall Flagg you get the night after you finish it (which I’m not kidding; last night’s dreams were all about Flagg, which doesn’t help the paranoia factor at all). Though I’m excited to get back into the fantasy world, I’m glad I took a break and finally read King’s most infamous work and in the way it was meant to be read, as said by him.
Read on. M-O-O-N, that spells “read on”, laws, yes.
What experiences have you had reading The Stand? Any books you’ve ever read through a recommendation that brought you closer to someone else (if you haven’t, you should try it)? Any books you think I should read? Leave stories, comments and suggestions below. Thanks for reading!