Finally I’m writing a post about a book on The List!
And it’s been a long time coming; at 1,325 pages The Stand is definitely not the shortest book I’ve ever read. It is a titan of a book with a vast host of characters and a myriad of plotlines which all weave together to form one of the most gripping novels of the 20th century.
The story begins with a plague which wipes out approximately 99% of America and leaves a chosen few to deal not only with rebuilding the world as they knew it but also with a mysterious figure in the west who threatens to destroy everything. Those who survive the plague are not necessarily the archetypal hero types but are brought together by the power of some prophecy-like dreams which eventually unite them all in a small town in Colorado and lead them to the greatest fight of their lives.
There are no words to describe just how much I enjoyed this book. The characters are so well developed and three-dimensional that I frequently found myself thinking about them when I allowed my mind to wander through the day. The book begins pre-plague and develops slowly (although the plague claims all its victims in a 19-day period the action develops slowly and seems to take much longer) so that we get a good look at their lives and this forms a solid foundation for what follows. I grew to really care about many of these characters and the peril in which they all spent the most part of the novel kept my heart in my mouth the whole way through.
The plague itself, or ‘Captain Trips’ as it is often referred to, is allowed to gather momentum gradually and is often only mentioned at the end of a chapter when someone begins to cough innocuously. This device is so powerful that several times I found myself glaring suspiciously at a fellow tube passenger who happened to cough while they were standing near me. This is a testament to the power of King’s writing and probably the highest compliment I can pay him.
Post-plague the survivors begin to make cross-country pilgrimages guided by prophetic dreams. But despite having survived Captain Trips their lives are far from safe and King kept me on the edge of my seat by constantly throwing in new dangers and occasionally mowing down a character or two. This is one of his main strengths, he isn’t afraid to kill his main characters. So often when reading thrillers you find that only the token, background characters are ever in any real danger of dying but not so when reading Stephen King. I won’t ruin anything by naming names but suffice to say that more than once I was so stunned by a development I stared open-mouthed at the page.
But even though I was enjoying the story immensely I couldn’t help but worry about the ending as I could see the number of pages left diminishing. Time and again I have been disappointed by a book which has built up to a climactic ending only to let me down at the last moment by failing to rise to its own challenge. As the book started to wear down I feared the same was going to happen here. It’s hard to say too much without giving anything away but although it was over in a flash and I did feel he could have done more with the big good vs evil showdown there was a very satisfactory ending to what had been a momentous journey.
Overall The Stand is an emotional rollercoaster and a fantastic read which well deserves its place on The List but at position 53 is underrated. I cannot recommend it highly enough.