Friday, February 17, 2012

End of the world, Stephen King style

Book: The Stand (Complete and Uncut Edition)

Author: Stephen King

Published: 1991 (Signet)

Pages: 1141

You can gauge my stress level fairly accurately by the size of the Stephen King book I reach for to read yet again. This one is epic.

 It’s about a superflu epidemic that kills almost everyone in the world, and how the few who survive find each other and divide into good and evil camps depending on which shared supernatural dream pulls them harder.

I’ve reread it enough to sort of transcend the plot and focus on the underpinning of the story and how King scaffolds such a giant piece of writing. It surprises me how well he does, especially when I see that ominous subtitle “The Complete and Uncut Edition.” The 1991 version is the only one I know, which might be why I can’t tell where he’s added stuff. None of it reads as clumsily grafted on, although there are the usual bursts of overly witty banter and slightly stilted pop culture references that don’t add much except to the permissions granted list in the front.

 About the good and evil: in this book, it’s explicitly a Christian battle, which I don’t have a problem with because it’s a good shorthand that means King doesn’t have to go super deep into explaining it and is free to instead explore details. But his Good People are awfully Good for no grounded reasons other than “Well, it’s the RIGHT thing to do.” The only one who spells out why it’s an even more terrible sin to murder now—because people are far more precious—is the lady who is drawn the strongest to the Dark Man because he wants her to bear his son so she goes to the evil side anyway.

The people on the bad side are just so much more interesting than the Good People. The Bad People have more complex motivations and darker instincts they don’t suppress, or else they give into them after torturous inner turmoil. To be fair, most of the Good People have their share of inner turmoil too, it’s just directed at overcoming personal traits that seem like relatively small potatoes when stacked against the new fate of the human race. Still fun to read, though, and the end is an excellent mixture of creepy undertones that suggest the surface optimism will not end up justified.

It’s a good thick slab of Uncle Stevie’s Story Time, a long one-way conversation for when I want to stay the hell out of my own headspace for awhile.       

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