When Trish first suggested reading The Stand, I wasn’t convinced. Not because I wasn’t interested in reading The Stand, but because it is so long and I have a horrendous track record with readalongs and books I “have” to read. But it’s been a long time since I successfully read a Stephen King book. If you had asked me when I was 14 who my favorite author was, I most likely would have answered Stephen King. (Or if I thought you weren’t the kind of person to judge me, I would have most certainly said JK Rowling, because Harry Potter wasn’t cool yet and I was still hiding my fan fiction and obsession binders under my bed.) I tried to read Under the Dome when it came out, but I was underwhelmed and never finished that beast of a book. So, I thought, it’s probably time to try Stephen King again.
The thing about reading an author that you once loved unconditionally is seeing their flaws for the first time. I don’t know that, as a 12-14 year old, I was reading anything critically. I just read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on. I also traveled a lot and Stephen King was the only thing that I found worth reading in most gas stations.
This isn’t to say that Stephen King isn’t a good writer, because he is. Sometimes, he’s a downright brilliant writer, and I live for those amazing moments when you realize how good he is. This also isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying The Stand, because I am. Even though it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in a long time and I have barely read anything else for the entire month of June. There is no getting around the length of this novel. It will take you a good chunk of time to read and, since I’m only about 60% of the way through, I can’t quite yet tell you if it’s worth it.
With a book this long, sometimes I forget how much I really loved the beginning, despite how horrifying it was. Essentially, a government-created flu begins infecting people in Texas. It’s the end-of-the-world type flu. A flu that leaves everyone dead, except for one or two people in each town. The people who are left begin traveling and trying to find each other, which becomes much easier when they all start dreaming of Mother Abigail, an elderly black woman who knows that she has been chosen by God to lead the “good” people to Colorado.
The thing is, they’re not only dreaming of Mother Abigail. They’re also dreaming of “the dark man,” named Randall Flagg. People are gathering around him, too, but they are the least savory sort of folks: escaped convicts, drug addicts, and the technically inclined.
So, I just looked up what year this was published to try and figure out what decade it was so I could say, “Look it was the _____. Having a well-rounded cast of characters that didn’t perpetuate stereotypes wasn’t the norm yet.” Or at the very least, you probably weren’t being called out for it by every reader with a blog. I had no idea that The Stand was originally published in the 70s and then rereleased in the 90s and King changed the dates of the novel. What a strange decision! And, finally, it makes sense that the characters were saying “You dig?” and expecting me to really believe that relatively hip people said that in the 90s. Because they didn’t. I’m assuming. I was young then.
The way Stephen King approaches race has been addressed again and again. I think this article by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu about the presence of “the magical negro” in King’s books is a really great place to start. Like me, Okorafor-Mbachu is a fan of Stephen King, but it’s important to point out the flaws in the things you love.
Right now, I’m grateful for a little break from The Stand. I’ve been reading it with no breaks since the first week of June and I’m about 800 pages in, so I’m a little ahead for the readalong. I don’t want to be sick of this story, so I think that it will be good to take a short break and come back to the story excited to finish and eager to get back to the story.
(Also, I have told so many people that I’m reading The Stand and all of them have kind of given me this look, one eyebrow raised, and said, “Really? You?” To all the people who think that I think I am too good for reading The Stand: You have no idea how many really cheesy YA novels I read. Not that The Stand is a cheesy YA novel, but that is just an example of how non-snooty my reading choices are. If I had said I was reading Nicholas Sparks, then that reaction would have been acceptable.)