Top critical review
This took me ages to get into, & so far, The Gunslinger is his best
30 March 2013
Upon reading The Stand, I had already read the following Stephen King books : Different Seasons, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne, and the first three (and a half) novels in The Dark Tower saga which I gave up on during Wizard and Glass. Generally speaking, I have been nonplussed by Stephen King's popularity over the years, but The Stand, because of its widely held reputation as the best of King's gargantuan output, has been on my "to read" list for some time.
In The Stand, a superflu decimates the US population, leaving a small amount of the overall population alive. These survivors begin to dream of two people : Mother Abigail, the eldest person left alive, a woman of strong religious conviction and Randall Flagg, a man "whose name is Legion" and is coincidentally also the destructive antagonist of The Dark Tower Saga. In a classic choice between good and evil, the survivors have to decide whether they will seek the path to Mother Abigail and her group in Colorado or follow Randall Flagg, joining his new society in Las Vegas.
Since The Stand was first published in 1978, and re-released and re-set in 1990; (I had the 1990 version) post apocalyptic stories, which involve a virus of some kind decimating the population have become very popular. I've read several over the last few years.
Through the misfortune of reading a book which came first but proves similar to recent things, many areas of the plot feel samey, like tropes of what is expected from this kind of novel. Loss, confusion, banding together with fellow previously unknown survivors who become involved with each other, set backs on the journey, rebuilding a community. Yet this is unfair because King got there first, so others have imitated this, this and Day Of The Triffids. However, some writers have bettered this type of story, a particular example is Justin Cronin's The Passage.
For me, as is my general experience with King as a writer, I found the prose flat and felt no emotional connection to any of the imperiled characters which is a difficulty when it comes to enjoying a book. The Stand is 1,320 pages long which is a challenge for any reader, and it took me two weeks. But, it wasn't until page 700 that I engaged with the novel and started to get excited by what was happening.
In those first 700 pages there's a lot of inaction in terms of any kind of "Stand" between the two sides, just lots of council meetings and re-establishing law and order and government and utilities and stuff. Practical and honest, yet inactive: hardly a fight between good and evil. Flagg and Abigail for that they represent the polar opposites of morality are largely absent for massive chunks of the narrative.
In the second half things ramp up a bit, but the actual "Stand" between the parties ultimately amounts to a single showdown at which only a handful of the Colorado group are present. For all those pages it's a bit anticlimactical.
Though I generally dislike the tone he strikes with his prose, Stephen King does occasionally have his moments as a writer. I particularly liked these quotes :
"There is really nothing so comforting to the beaten of spirit or the broken of skull, than a good strong dose of 'Thy Will Be Done"
"God was a gamesman - If He had been a a mortal, He would have been at home hunkering over a checkerboard on the porch of Pop Mann's general store back in Hemingford Home. He played red to black, white to black. She thought that for Him, the game was more than worth the candle, the game was the candle. He would prevail in His own good time. But not necessarily this year or in the next thousand....and she would not overestimate the dark man's craft or cozening. If he was neon gas, then she was the tiny dark dust particle a great raincloud forms about over the parched land. Only another private soldier - long past retirement age, it was true! - in the service of the Lord."
However, controversially I don't concur this is his best book. Though I've only read seven (and a half) The Gunslinger, the first Dark Tower novel, is a brilliant book, a true 10/10, only disappointment is that the novels which follow in no way live up to it. I will never read the entirety of the man's output, I don't like him enough, but I also have Under The Dome on To Be Read at the moment, but of those I have read The Gunslinger is the best one.