Friday, May 14, 2010

The world as we know it

So I finally got around to reading "The Stand." I love Stephen King, I really do. I have never read anything by him that I haven't enjoyed -- "Carrie," "The Shining," "Misery," "'Salem's Lot." I wanted so much to like "The Stand" and I hated it.

This bothered me a lot, not least because it dawned on me something like 300 pages in and I knew I had a long way to go, because it was the uncut version. Maybe I should have started in with the shorter one instead. My first complaint about the book was that it was bloated beyond belief. I can tell from the introduction that he's incredibly proud of the descriptive passages involving heroine Frannie and her nasty mom, who embodies the sort of oppressive suburban strictures that King is excited about taking out with his superflu plague. I appreciate what King's trying to do here, especially as a fellow Shirley Jackson fan -- yeah, these social strictures are unpleasant, aren't they? But oh my God, he goes on and on and ON. Some editor needs to stand on his head and say "Steve, enough!" But people love the uncut version of this book, so what do I know. Just every sequence is like that -- it goes on and on and ON -- and you think there's going to be some major payoff by the end, but no. I was so crushed by this. I don't know what I was expecting (maybe something related to the iconic cover art, above), but it just, ugh.

Has anyone besides me not read "The Stand"? Quick summary: Army-developed superflu takes out civilization. A few individuals are left. They gradually find each other, and find that they are all having dreams of an old black woman in Nebraska; they make their way to her, and find she's real and she's amassing a force to resist the other figure in their dreams, a violent white man. Good people line up against bad people. Except not really, but kind of, at the very end, and then not.

I don't know. If I had never heard of this book and someone had handed me a short version, I might well have loved it. I loved the superflu taking people out (misanthropes love plague) and I enjoyed the awkward social interactions between the survivors, who comes from all different backgrounds. But the eventual society that the survivors form is so weird and crazy and mad sexist, it read to me like a 1960s-era husband's daydream. "What if everyone died and we had to PROTECT THE WOMEN?" This of course led me to thinking about my favorite Ray Milland film, "Panic in Year Zero":

Which pretty much reads like a daydream some henpecked husband has on a fishing trip. "What if we couldn't go back to the city and I had to lead us? What if I had to find us rifles and food supplies and care for the WOMEN?" Well, bleah, is what I say to that.

The best thing about "The Stand" was the idea that you would never, never get away with writing a book like that today. We now live in a world that's rich with apocalypse fiction -- and we owe "The Stand" a great debt, I am sure -- but it is not all about Fertility and Saving The Women anymore. The women will be right up front firing automatic weapons at the rapists and zombies, not huddling in the back all pregnant and scared, thank you.

Oh, and the theology involved with this gave me the utter willies. Maybe it's just, again, a sign of the times: the godlike-old-black-woman trope was tired when "The Matrix" busted it out a decade ago. Does it serve anyone to divide communities into absolute good and absolute evil? The people who don't laugh at your hero's jokes are automatically going to decamp for the evil site? The creeps and the outsiders and the ones who just never fit in, they line up with the dark man? Jeepers. I appreciate that it's just a potboiler, but -- leave me out of it, please.


Allison said...

I read the "cut" version of The Stand years ago, then the uncut version two years ago during a three-day blackout from a helluva wind/lightning storm. Because there was NOTHING else to do (the entire QC area was without power), I soldiered on. I agree with you completely, in every aspect. But let me tell you, the "cut" version is just as heavy-handed. You aren't missing much.
Glad to hear someone else out there loves King as much as I... when his editors do their jobs.

AE said...

I sort of envy you blasting through it in three days! I kept putting this down and picking up other things, which may be why it felt so agonizingly drawn-out to me; I've been going at this book for over a month now. The action did pick up nicely at the end, but by then it was just too late. And I HATED the denouement, with the "oh, it'll all start again." Well, of course it will, since you didn't TAKE us anywhere. Oh, I'm getting all worked up again.

Glad you agreed, though -- I have been feeling guilty about this post! (Though not apologetic, apparently.)

Chris said...

I recently re-read the Stand because I had a vague recollection of enjoying it many years previously. It turns out my brain had, once again, betrayed me. The uncut version is *terrible*, but even reading it I couldn't imagine cutting it down to make it useful. The concept that only the most annoying people would survive an apocalypse put me off the whole genre for months.

Sorry I didn't warn you. But then, everyone else seems to like it, so I kind of figured I slept through the interesting parts.

AE said...

Oh, I could imagine cutting it down. *cackles* It would give me great pleasure to go through and suggest which massive chunks could be removed! I'm happy to have read it, what with its being A Classic and so forth, but even happier to be done with it.

One more thing: Nothing about it was particularly scary. That was weird.

Betsy said...

The Stand was, I believe, the only Stephen King book I read about 100 pages of and then abandoned. He certainly can write a fine very long book, ie. It. Good to hear I didn't miss anything great by not reading that one! Also, the copy I had a photo of Gary Sinise on the cover, which annoyed me.

AE said...

I will have to Face my Fears and give "It" a go... it is one of the few books I am still avoiding because I think it will scare me too much. Betsy, I have another copy of "Insomnia" to tackle, as soon as I get over this experience.

Allison said...

I agree about it not being scary. I did, however, read The Tommyknockers when I was 20, and wanted to sleep with a nightlight for the rest of the summer. I still can't pick it up, and it's been 12 years.
"IT" was my favorite King novel for many years, until I read Bag of Bones. I don't know why, but there is something so lyrically beautiful about it, and it is so unlike any of his earlier stuff. I pick it up and read it every two years or so. It still freaks me out, and I've read it probably 6 times.

AE said...

Just snagged a "Bag of Bones" paperback from the dollar table at the used bookstore! The horror, it is on.

Allison said...

Oooo, goody! Please let me know what you think. I love love love it. Hey, you know what? I think it's time I pick it up again, too. Happy reading!