In case you weren’t aware, last year was not the year anyone wanted, or planned for. It didn’t matter in the end that we all had plans, lives, and things we sought to accomplish. Regardless, billions of people found themselves stuck at home, with little more to do than an average day for the bums of the world. I bring this up, because during this quarantine time, as my wife and I called it from time to time, we found ourselves enveloping ourselves in a multitude of entertainment options, indulging in everything from new video games like Ori and Doom Eternal, hobbies like knitting, listening to records, and of course, reading.
Since I first started noticing books in my formative teenage years, I naturally gravitated towards Maine landmark Stephen King, whose “It,” I first read at the totally appropriate age of 13, leaving me with tons of nightmares I never mentioned to anyone. Had I done so I risked not being able to read more of this King Fella, or so my young mind thought at the time. Either way, since those years I've read over twenty of his novels, but we’re veering off point here, so I'll leave it at that.
All this comes back to me sitting at my new apartment, unsure of the state of the world. I found myself wanting to read King's masterpiece “The Stand,” which probably wasn’t the best option, given the circumstances, but I was already stuck in the house, so I dove in. Reading The Stand during this particular situation ultimately served as a more than welcome, ultra hyped up scenario, very much unlike the real life lethargy that was sweeping the world. I finished it in 6 days.
When you begin the book, the situation is dire, with millions at least having died from what's referred to as Captain Trips in the novel. It's more lethal than the Covid-19 strain, by far, but the anxiety of the uncertain remains very similar to the world stage in 2020. Work stopped, seeing friends stopped, you got calls here and there, but everyone was stagnant. Many in the Stand face similar situations in the opening pages of the book, which at 1200 ages is a behemoth to undertake. Granted, there wasn’t mass death and erracti violence and supernatural forces like what's described in the novel, but it was a very eerie, still time.
When we first meet the major characters of “The Stand,” you naturally gravitate towards Stu Redman, who’s down the line approach to life offers a mirror into the type of person who needs to work with everyone in order to survive. Now the book isn’t about Stu only, but through the course of this long journey, it's Stu who becomes one of the focal points of the book, trying to as swiftly and efficiently bring back some semblance of normal, or maybe a new normal, like what we’re going through now.
Now, in the real world, sides were already being drawn, chiefly among people who were pro masks and anti masks, with plenty of people choosing to ignore the evidence of their ears and eyes, much like another dystopian masterpiece, “1984.” That doesn’t really happen in the book, with everyone being very aware of the virus, but you can definitely see the differences among the two main groups in the book. Some were led by the elderly Mother Abigail, while the more unhinged types ultimately end up in Vegas, being casually manipulated by a figure known as Flagg, as well as many other things, in other worlds than this.
The book ends up taking on a life of its own, with both sides gradually trying to cement their own types of worlds. One side, the Colorado group, is seen purposely rebuilding their area in a way that's beneficial for all the residents, while the other side is more concerned with derailing the “opposing team's” goals through denial, violence, and plenty of fear mongering. Thank god this never happened in real life…
At first, at least for me, I viewed the dynamics between the groups as being the fight for good against evil, which it is in some context, but pigeonholing the characters like that creates an issue as your journey expands and continues through all the chaos. The crux, or the fact that the “bad” people aren’t inherently bad starts to wear on the reader as the muck and mire are showcased. Folks like Flagg, the main antagonist, are out for blood. Others like Trashcan Man, Nadine and Lloyd are all victims of their own circumstance. Every choice, event and action has led them there, whether they seeked it out or not.
As I briefly touched on, two of the most polarizing characters featured in terms of grey character morality, when I think about it, are Nadine Cross and Donald Elbert, also known as the Trashcan Man. The way King writes his characters, especially his so-called villains, shows the brilliance of the writer. When I met Cross in the book, I viewed her as a desperate figure looking for sanctuary and people needing help, while over time she morphs into a figure that you manage to despise while still feeling pretty crappy for her. Sure, her actions throughout might suggest a person angling for the benefit of evil, but she’s utterly confused as well. As Nadine’s journey to Vegas is documented, it becomes clear she's not the ring leader pulling the strings. Rather, she’s just a very important, albeit unstable piece of property of the ‘The Dark Man,” I at the very least felt bad for her, and as you experience her cruel, violent journey to Vegas, the feelings just get worse. She’s not a wonderful person, she’s just too weak to stand up for herself, until she finds her strength and meets her wanted end.
One of the many things I found myself struggling with was how I felt about some of the people In Flagg’s army. We meet Trash and it’s obvious he’s been pushed around his whole life. As a person who stutters and was bullied and consistently teased, it felt to me like very real trauma he was trying to work through. Perhaps it was the same with Nadine Cross. I’m not convinced that these people were always truly evil. Cross especially you can feel her excitement but also apprehension in what will eventually happen with Flagg. What ended up being awesome and ultimately justified was the way the characters themselves are changed as the story unfolds. The feeling of desperation through the book was also staggering to me.Even as I was stuck in the house dealing with numerous health concerns, “the Stand” still called to me, especially as we delved into the deep hearts of the multitude of characters presented here.
Really though, the character development is off the charts too. Trash, Lloyd, Glenn, and especially Nick Andros were all great characters on other sides of the pendulum. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as bad for a villain as I did Trash when he meets the Kid, which was fucking crazy in and of itself. I was on edge the whole time. You want him to kill the Kid so badly, but at least for me I kept trying to figure out a way for him to be safe, even though his being safe implies that the world is gonna burn.
Yet, the real world situation kept jumping out at me as I forced my stubborn path through this behemoth of a book. Going outside you were distant to strangers, scared of the invisible danger filling up our world, which brings us to the difficulty of finding something in a situation where everyone is afraid of everyone else.
This thought brings me to the segments of the book in the Boulder Safe Zone. Watching Stu, Frannie and the others try to get the world back off the ground was difficult, and you want it to work so badly, but you never know exactly what is gonna work and what won’t. The real life pressures helped bridge the gap for me in terms of what each camp was doing and how the stakes changed as the Stand evolved.
But even in the apocalypse, there are still romantic entanglements, moves and countermoves as parties navigated who to watch the world burn with. These moments in the book mirror what we were going through in a much more aggressive way, but that’s not to say that people didn’t get lonely during our covid lockdowns. I, as mentioned earlier, was inseparable from my wife for months, who was struggling with the pandemic and also Cancer. We were together, and fighting a very real battle, but many others had to go through it alone, with no loved ones or significant others to help them. In that way, we were appreciative of the bond shared during our months in the house.
I will admit though I was initially confused during some of the first half. I’ve seen the old Miniseries a few times and never even knew Rita was an entire separate character in the book. That ended up being way more interesting to me, if only because you get to see Larry really struggling with new reality. He’s a deeply conflicted character and not initially the all around great guy he becomes throughout the book.
In short, this was probably the 18 or King book I’ve read, and it quickly became not only my favorite King book, but one of the best I’ve ever read in my life. Absolutely beautiful and catastrophic in equal parts. It’s incredible and makes me love King the Man even more. I’ve read that great writers read constantly and get new ideas and this has been the same for me. I’ve been writing more and more of my own novel, picking little things up as I go. It’s both a privilege and a teaching lesson to read his books and figure out how to be a better writer. I can’t wait to see how this changes my approach years down the line. Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you enjoyed this!
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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