Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Stand by Stephen King

I've come to The Stand late in the game. The original was written before I was born, this copy, the 1,200 page behemoth I just put down, is the version King intended to put out, uncut and without alterations. 

I know what you're saying: "1,200 pages?! You're mad!" At least, that's what I assume you're saying. But don't worry, as they say in The Stand: "Even the company of the mad is better than the company of the dead."

I'll start where King does, with Captain Trips. Captain Trips is the nickname given to the flu. This isn't your chicken noodle soup, stay home from work kind of flu. No, this is the turns your insides to jelly and wipes out 99.4% of the world's population kind. 

The detail that King devotes to Captain Trips' decimation of everyday peoples' lives is one of the most horrifying things I've ever read, and it's easy to figure out why: We've all had the flu, it's one of life's guarantees, like stubbing your toe or being disappointed by the 2nd season of True Detective. 

Let me tell you something, after reading the first chapters of The Stand, you'll be squeezing Purell over your Apple Jacks. 
Ultimately, the reason why this novel struck a chord with me is that it seems 100% plausible: A super-flu is homegrown inside the bowels of an top secret American military facility and then one day it simply gets out. It goes home with one of the guards, who takes it home to his wife and baby and boom, you've got yourself mass panic as the world descends into the clutches of an incurable sickness that kills within days. 

Miraculously, a small handful of people inexplicably escape Captain Trips, they're immunity is a mystery to everyone. These people are spread out across the country, but as fate would have it, they eventually find each other.

This would be fine if this was an episode of Little House on the Prairie and all the survivors had to do was lock arms, sing "Kumbaya" and build a few barns. But this isn't, this is Stephen King we're talking about here.

Captain Trips turns out to be the portal, the crack in the door that unleashes something even more terrifying. An entity known as Randall Flagg, aka The Walkin' Dude aka The Dark Man. To you and me, Flagg looks like a run-down cowboy with a face like steel. The reality is much, much darker.

Flagg is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, he can drive you insane by looking at you, he can control the minds of animals and he has a very, very sick sense of humour. Flagg is probably one of the scariest villains ever created.

Flagg exploits the weaknesses in the survivors in the western half of the country. People that are scared to death and are in desperate need for some kind of leader to see them through. These are people like the Trashcan Man (almost as frightening as Flagg himself), Lloyd Henry and a beer guzzling, Yosemite Sam type character known as The Kid.

Using these people, Flagg sets up camp in, where else - Las Vegas, the city of sin. From there he creates a militarized compound that uses fear and capital punishment (miles of crucified drug abusers are set up along the road into Vegas) to maintain order.

Flagg and his lackeys start to compile weapons of mass destruction in order to eliminate their competition - another group of survivors situated in Boulder, Colorado and led by the 108 year-old Abigail Freemantle, known as Mother Abigail to her followers.

Mother Abigail claims to be a prophet of God, and those that have come to her have done so because their dreams have led them to her. Flagg is also in their dreams, or nightmares I should say, speaking to them, whispering into the ears of those he thinks he can convert to his side.

After an act of sabotage, Mother Abigail sends her strongest warriors, led by the gentle, quiet but strong Stu Redman, into the desert to confront Flagg and his henchmen. A showdown of Biblical proportions erupts, but not in the way that you might think. It's a test of wills and of faith. It is a test of the belief that good must triumph at all costs.

I'm not sure what else to say, other than The Stand is an absolute masterpiece. It's The Lord of the Rings set in Las Vegas, it's The Book of Revelations packed into a .45 and shot into a hangar full of nuclear weapons.

You will root for these characters, you will fall in love with them, you will hate them and you will be scared to death of them because at its core King has written a book about very ordinary people trying to survive in a world that has gone absolutely insane.

You'll find yourself in these pages, because there are little bits of every one of us in these characters, even Randall Flag. I cannot recommend it enough.

This review and more can also be found on my new site "The Angster" at http://bit.ly/1Ik4RoH

-Lucas


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