“He smiles a lot. But I think there might be worms inside him making him smile.”
The Stand is, more or less, a story depicting the end of the world. It begins with an accidental outbreak of super flu from a government facility, which soon breaks free to wreak havoc on unsuspecting humans and animals. Almost everyone dies, and does so considerably fast. The army tries to stop it, but no one succeeds. Those that DO survive are people who have a natural immunity to the bug. Eventually these lucky souls band together to form a sort of community.
But before they form their strong union, they are plagued by horrifying dreams of the same man, who is known to them as Randall Flagg. Not knowing what he is or what he wants, they do know he is planning something truly horrible and forming his own sort of army.
They also dream of a being called 'Mother Abigail', who helps lead them to join in the first place. Once they have come together, they must fight to survive and defeat their enemies.
The atmosphere is bleak and gritty. It's depressing, but at the end of the tunnel they find a light through each other. They try and maintain hope and see it through to the end, while fighting the seemingly impossible at the same time. Not a feel good book necessarily, but then again most horror isn't.
Stephen King is one of those authors who has a natural talent with characterization. The Stand is no different, and although there are several key players to keep track of, I wasn't confused as I have been in some of his other novels. I can't speak of a "main character," because there were several, and each person brought forth their unique traits, their past histories, and their own individual purposes, that were important to the plot. Each one enhanced the tale, and without this important element the story would not have succeeded so well. I didn't like everyone, but thankfully those I didn't care for got less time than the others.
Randall Flagg himself wasn't outwardly menacing; parts of what made him disturbing was he appeared so normal on the outside. In the film version they explained away what he was but in the book the reader is left with their own speculations.
Some may see the page count of this one (817) and fear it would be too slow for them, rest assured it's not. The pace goes along surprisingly well for such a lengthy read. A lot is covered but it's not sped over so quickly the reader is left confused. There are breathers but it's not slow enough to bore.
The style is old-school King but even better. It's not drawn out too much like some of his other works and never bored me. It is to the point enough to where my eyes didn't wander but also King took time to let you REALLY know who the characters were and what they were about. As a result, if they died, you cared. When they were in trouble, you held your breath. Tension scenes were played out well and suspense was built up accordingly.
Is the Stand haunting? Well...it's never fun to imagine that basically the entire world is dead and you are left alone, forced to seek out other survivors and make them your new family because your real ones are dead. It's not fun to go into the street and be greeted with the stench of decaying corpses, or to no longer have electricity and signs of modern times. Getting wrapped up in the story like I did, I was able to imagine what this would have been like, and let me tell you it wasn't pretty. That theme alone was creepy. The end of the world isn't a time I'd want to live in, especially if it goes out this way.
As with most horror, especially King's version of it, there is gore and there is violence. But not too much is covered in detail on the horrible demises. A few of the deaths are different enough, and they all leave that hollow feeling in the chest, one reason being because King makes sure you care about the people being slaughtered. The more disturbing stuff happened "off-page," told to the characters, but they didn't actually experience it. The gore level is minimal enough so that you don't end up having to reach for that emergency "vomit bag" hanging near your reading chair.
In the end, The Stand showed me how horrible the Apocalypse really would be. But it also proved some age-old facts: when humans come together and build a united force, we can accomplish almost anything.
“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there...and still on your feet.”
“People who try hard to do the right thing always seem mad.”
“Even the company of the mad was better than the company of the dead.”
“Love didn't grow very well in a place where there was only fear”