So I finally finished reading the uncut edition of The Stand last night. I’ve read The Stand before, probably about 20 years ago, so I’d forgotten most of it (apart from the scene from the TV adaptation where Nick and Tom first meet Julie Lawry – I always remember that one scene and I’m not sure why; I think it was the creepiness Shawnee Smith put into her portrayal of Lawry that stuck with me – that cackle!).
But anyway. I finished the book. And unusually for me where a Stephen King story is concerned, I struggled to finish it. That never happens. Like never.
The story can be easily split into Acts 1, 2 and 3. Act 1 is the onset of Captain Trips and the effect it has on the various characters. Act 2 is the struggles of those characters to adjust to a world where most of the population are dead or dying of the flu, and with the strange dreams they are having of the Walkin’ Dude and Mother Abagail. Act 3 is the final confrontation where our heroes are sent to confront Flagg, and – well, I won’t give away the ending in case you haven’t read it.
Act 1 and Act 3 kept me gripped, but I struggled with Act 2, mainly because nothing really seemed to happen. There were a lot of folk walking from place to place to place, and nobody getting any place quickly. Then again, as per usual with King, there was one massive cast to keep up with. Also, it was the uncut edition, so what did I expect?
The main reason for writing this post is to urge everyone to read Chapter 23 (it may not be Chapter 23 in other editions / versions, but it begins with the line ‘Randall Flagg, the dark man, strode south on US 51…’. Find that chapter and read it. Then try and tell me that it isn’t the best damned depiction of a character ever written.
Everything you ever need to know about Flagg is contained in those four and a half pages. And it isn’t just what Flagg looks like or what Flagg is wearing, it’s the language King uses that suggests Flagg’s demeanour. I mean, to save time, he could just have come out with ‘Flagg is the most evil person in the world, and possibly Satan himself’, (which would’ve been pretty shitty writing to be fair) but instead he uses passages such as this one:
‘It was the face of a hatefully happy man, a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make waterglasses shatter in the hands of tired truck-stop waitresses, to make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees. It was a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody.’
‘He was a clot looking for a place to happen, a splinter of bone hunting a soft organ to puncture, a lonely lunatic cell looking for a mate – they would set up housekeeping and raise themselves a cozy little malignant tumor.’
I dream to aspire to write passages like that!
So whilst I might’ve struggled with The Stand in parts, it was worth persevering to experience King’s gorgeous use of language.
I’m not one for books with ‘messages’ but The Stand makes a very clear statement on the human condition, and it’s not an optimistic one. In light of the recent racial tensions post-Brexit, and more recently the shootings in Dallas, I think King’s take on how we act as a society is particularly poignant. And very, very sad.