[Book Review] The Stand by Stephen King

A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader.

Copy of The Stand by Stephen King, missing dust jacket

As an initial disclaimer, I read the complete and uncut edition of this novel. Published by Doubleday and coupled with a sporadic number of black-and-white illustrations, this edition clocks in at 1,153 pages. The cut version, according to a quick google search, sits at 823 pages, and a perhaps less hefty version (in terms of size and width of the pages) of the uncut edition is around 1,300 pages. That said, based on the edition I read, I would say that even the condensed version is still too long.

First, I did enjoy reading this beast of a novel. It was detailed (insanely detailed!) and you would be hard pressed to find any plot holes or illogical conclusions or actions in any novel by King. He is a master storyteller indeed. Frannie, Stu, Tom, Nick, and all the others are great characters who do a lot for the novel; however, The Stand was far from my favorite King novel. It may be blasphemy, but I prefer 11/22/63 to this book.

Yes, there are a ton of great philosophical musings on humanity and sociological behaviors and theorizing about reconstructing a society (an entire nation), yet even considering that, most of this book was Tolkienesque in its incredibly unnecessarily long cross country trips. The world as they knew it has changed drastically, and of course people love to poke holes in books if key events happen off screen, but King’s token habit of placing everything onscreen to illustrate that yes, he’s thought this through, while proving his point that he has indeed covered all his bases, it still does not result in a riveting read. I felt the same way about much of the character development. You have to read 50 pages or more about an early pandemic trauma in order for that character to reference it several more times over the course of the novel as a means of explaining their future behavior and mindset. This makes sense, yes, but I still found myself thinking “meh” every time the past trauma was brought up. An example is Nick and the jail cells he was in charge of and Larry and his experience with Rita. All of that helped me understand the characters’ motivations, yes, but it failed to establish an emotional connection. At least for me.

I know many people love this book and consider it one of King’s greatest masterpieces (my mother was the one who encouraged me to read this book), but I have to say I’m disappointed. It seems that King managed to take something as interesting as a pandemic and make it as boring and as theologically convoluted as possible. The whole devil versus God thread felt very anticlimactic by the end, so much so that I wish all of that had been left out and the novel was strictly a natural disaster survival book.

Perhaps I’m just not the ideal audience for this book, and I accept that. (It should be noted that I want to love every book I read, especially if it’s a huge book that takes a long time to get through.) However, if you are like me and have been spending a long time on the fence debating whether or not you should read this book, my suggestion is that you pass. Reading a detailed summary of the novel will get you there just as well.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Doubleday, 1990, 1,153 pages (originally published in 1978)

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