Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

‘You are to go west,’ Mother Abagail whispered. ‘You are to take no food, no water. You are to go this very day, and in the clothes you stand up in. You are to go on foot. I am in the way of knowing that one of you will not reach your destination, but I don’t know which will be the one to fall. I am in the way of knowing that the rest will be taken before this man Flagg, who is not a man at all but a supernatural being. I don’t know if it’s God’s will for you to defeat him. I don’t know if it’s God’s will for you to ever see Boulder again. Those things are not for me to see. But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand. You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand.’

Stephen King: The Stand

It’s been four and a half years since I read Stephen King’s The Stand for the first time, and even longer since I’ve seen the movie. I can’t explain the way this story-line draws me in, but once I start to read this, or even want to read this ridiculously hefty book (1421 pages in my unabridged copy), I have to read it, and keep going. It becomes almost like an obsession for me. It doesn’t matter how much it scares me, or how disturbed I get by some of the imagery, I have to keep reading.

I didn’t realize how much the Captain Trips section of this book would scare me the second time I went through it. Almost as much as the first time. December 4 years ago, I came back from Rome reading this book. A friend of mine picked it up for me there, and I started it just after the term ended. I finished it by February 2003. I didn’t realize how much this book affected me, until SARS began to hold Toronto captive, the city where I was working. I was working at an architecture firm designing hospitals, and we had to make sure we all went through the quarantine procedures if we went on site. I remember sitting on the bus, in transit, when someone would cough, and I couldn’t help but think about the line: in a very short time, there would be no more movies at all. In the row behind Larry, a man was coughing. SARS was scary, but even scarier having just read how a single strain of flu could wipe out 99 percent of the world. While it wasn’t quite as scary reading it this second time around, I felt the fear rise up. Maybe it’s a bit more like panic. All I can say for sure is that Stephen King isn’t called the master of horror for nothing. If I might make one recommendation, don’t read this at night like I did, if at all possible. Its kept me up wondering about the characters, and what will happen next, even though I already know the story.

Rereading it again, I was struck by different characters. The first time I read it, Stu and Frannie were by far my favorites. I’m not sure why, but they were. I think now it was because they were idealists, and 2 of the first characters you experience. Nick Andros was a close second. This time around, Nick Andros still held my heart, but Larry was my favorite. I think its because he was more… flawed. His character had to work through more, it had to fight against its own nature in order to make something out of it. Larry was the character who was made into a leader by the deadly flu. He started off as a coward, but had to work through it. I think maybe the first time I read this, I was far more of an idealist than I am now. I expected to find the good in people, rather than looked for it. Which doesn’t really make sense, since Larry had to find the good in himself.

But now that I think about it, I think that’s the reason I don’t handle reading this kind of story very well. I’ve always been interested in psychology and faith. But I’ve always hated the kinds of stories where good people give into their deepest desires and let themselves go irrevocably. I don’t want to believe that it can actually happen. I find it hard to watch, or read (its kind of the same thing the way my imagination works) no matter what. Maybe its because I’m so controlled with my own life, maybe its because in my faith I believe that redemption is available to everyone, that I don’t want to believe people can turn towards their own dark interests for good. Maybe that’s why I tried to lie to myself, believing Trashy’s exclamation of My life for you! was directed ultimately at God rather than Flagg, which I now know was foolish. But still, strangely I suppose, I have hope that good can be found in anyone seeking God’s salvation. And rereading the end of Trahy’s story, I can’t help but wonder anyway.

In any case, the quote above made me wonder a couple of things. I wonder if someone with a faith in God that I trusted said whispered these things to me, and if I felt them stir in my heart, would I be able to go? Its hard to answer. So many of us right now (I’d like to say its only those of us in our 20s, but I’d be wrong) are just waiting for God to say something so distinct to us like that. Something that gives our life purpose; that says we have a very distinct role in the grand scheme of things. Something more than the 9-5 routine that becomes our lives in so many cases. But if God were to say that to us, would we go? Or, would we feel like our routine was so ingrained in our lives that we would be reluctant, and even pass on the opportunity to serve Him? Today I face an extremely mild version of that question. He isn’t asking me to confront the Devil’s minion or give up my life, but rather to give up the people, the familiarity, the comfort of my own surroundings. He’s asking me to trust Him with what, no, who I value most, and leave them for Him to take care of. The timing isn’t immediate, but rather a pressing on my heart. And I think I know what my answer will be. It might not be as glamorous an exclamation as Trashy’s, but its there. Only if You are there too.

The final question-train that quote makes me think of: how does the faith change for the survivors once their leaders are gone? Who becomes prophet? How does God reveal Himself then? These are not questions I can answer. Maybe not even questions Stephen King can answer either. But maybe, just maybe converted sociologist Glen Bateman could’ve answered them. He would’ve at least had some sort of theory.