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.