I read a lot, but found myself shyly admitting to a friend earlier this year that I had yet to read a Stephen King novel. My friend did not shun me, the world did not end, and my belief in the rocky sturdiness of our friendship remained as he recommended The Stand. “It’s pretty good if you’re the sort who happens to like dystopian stuff,” he said completely seriously, immediately shattering my belief in the rocky sturdiness of our friendship as we’ve had multiple conversations about my love of dystopian fiction this year alone.
“It’s Complicated” friendship status aside, I downloaded the e-book version on my Kindle without looking up anything else about it, settled into several comfy pillows on my bed, and began reading. After an hour I so, I glanced at the bottom of my Kindle where it showed I was 4% into the book after skipping the lengthy introduction that Stephen King instructs new readers to skip. It turns out I downloaded The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, which clocks in at a whopping 1,153 print pages, which I state to highlight exactly how much this book gripped me and how much I completely ignored household chores and my sleep needs to finish this whopper over the course of 3 days.
The prologue was added into the revised edition, and as a new reader I think it opens the book the way I expected from a Stephen King novel: the tension is immediately racked up to 11 as a character bursts into his house and demands his wife pack up herself and their child to escape. Escape from what? Some people died, but there’s no time to explain, just go, go! It’s a testament to King’s writing that I was so invested in these prologue characters that I wanted nothing more for them to flee from whatever unnamed horror was after them–even though the prologue is only 5 pages long.
From here, we are introduced to a slow town of blue collar workers, specifically Stu Redman and his group of male buddies hanging out at a gas station. Their mundane arguments about economics and politics are rudely interrupted when a car smashes into the gas station with three gruesome, bloated, rotten purple bodies inside; two are dead and the third dies in front of the horrified group of men. Although an ambulance carts them away, government officials show up later to round up everyone who had contact with the bodies, and anyone who had contact with those people. Stu comes to the realization that they were exposed to some fatal contagious disease and are being quarantined in the hopes of containing it before it spreads to all of humanity.
At this point I was wondering if my “It’s Complicated” friend had been trolling me by recommending a book about a global pandemic during an actual global pandemic, but I carried on–partially because I was morbidly interested in how a fictional alternate reality would deal with a pandemic, but also partially because I just really, really, wanted to know what happened. The Stand is a very long epic, and Stephen King stated that he wanted to write something like a contemporary, modern-times “Lord of the Rings” adventure. The Stand is written from the point of view of several characters, adding some as the story goes on and dropping some as certain characters are, shall we say, no longer able to narrate. But there is absolutely a sense of a bunch of regular people living their lives, slowly being pulled together to eventually fight a supernatural evil that threatens humanity’s existence, and clearly I’m not the only one who feels Stephen King pulled off the exact epic he was intending to write. The mystical elements fit into the story perfectly, because in the face of a lethal pandemic that wipes out over 90% of the global population, one begins to think some godlike force on another plane of existence may very well have it out for humanity. While the current-as-of-this-review Covid-19 pandemic isn’t quite as devastating as the fictional pandemic of The Stand, it hits close to home in a way it probably didn’t back when it was originally published, exploring issues of government conspiracies, military cover ups, lab leak rumors, denial, natural immunity, and finding hope in the face of what feels like an impending apocalypse.
If you’re thinking of reading or rereading The Stand during Covid-19, I highly recommend it. For the new readers such as myself, it’s incredibly easy to place yourself in the shoes of the protagonists and wonder what choices you’d make if the current real-life pandemic was even worse than it currently is. For rereaders, I expect your opinions may change due to your experiences of current events. Either way, it’s absolutely worth the time spent immersing yourself in Stephen King’s contemporary epic.
Disclaimer: I checked the e-book version out from my local public library for free and read it toggling between my 10th generation Kindle Oasis and my Kindle Voyage. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Marie’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars