Released: October 3, 1978
This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.
And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the Dark Man.
I was surprised to find that I hadn’t written a review for The Stand back when I read it early 2017. I feel like I’ve been reviewing this book a lot, but that might be down to having spoken to quite a few people about it. Or maybe I just felt completely exhausted after having finished 1300 pages of Stephen King.
In any case, I chose to read the extended edition, and I’m kind of glad I did. While I’m not sure whether the extra 300 pages or so made it a better book, it did put the idea in my head that parts of what I read were things an editor would cut, but that an author would want to include. And if I’m going to read this many pages, I might as well read some extra pages to get the authors full intention.
And, make no mistake, The Stand is a slog – but in a way that didn’t really feel bad or annoying. It takes it’s time, a long time, and revels in it. There are parts that don’t relate to anything else at all, and the experience of reading some of it felt almost like reading disparate stories about disparate things happening to occur in the same universe. I feel like this is the kind of book an author could only write if they weren’t too worried about people liking it, and, as opposed to some books I’ve read that I liked, but that didn’t find satisfying, The Stand felt satisfying, even though there were parts of it that I didn’t really like. It’s tempting to compare The Stand to The Luminaries: the way I greatly admire that book, but didn’t really like it, I can see people absolutely hating The Stand, but I don’t think anyone could claim that it is a bad book.
And, considering how this book seems more of an experiment of revelling in a world rather than a story, the ending seems almost appropriate. The entire book felt like it was slowly building up to something really big, and then the ending doesn’t amount to much at all. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t annoying, but it did leave me appreciating the whole body of the book more than I might otherwise have done – after all, as long as the ending didn’t amount to much, the rest of the book can’t be said to be an unnecessarily long build-up… right? Right? I’m not going to claim that I think it’s intentional, but I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if it was.
In any case, on balance I liked The Stand. I wouldn’t recommend it without putting a huge disclaimer on it lowering expectations, but at the same time, anyone who picks up a 1000+ page Stephen King book should, by the time they do that, be aware of the risks. Or, to put it another way: anyone for whom The Stand would be a valid recommendation almost certainly already has it on their to-read list.