Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stephen King, The Stand

Back in high school and my early college years, Stephen King was one of my favorite authors. I read Carrie, Cujo, Firestarter, The Shining, and (my personal fave) Misery in two- or three-day marathon sessions, savoring all those wonderful pop culture references and page-turner suspense sequences, not to mention the occasional literary allusion or two (he was, after all, a former English teacher!). But The Stand -- most likely due to its length -- didn't interest me.

For this month's Biblioholics Anonymous group read, we chose The Stand ... and I must admit, I should have read this book years ago. One of the best pieces of fiction I've read so far this year, the novel is gargantuan in length and scope, yet based on a simple premise: the end of the world.

Set in the United States in 1990, the novel recounts the effects of an accidental outbreak of a man-made plague -- later called the superflu -- which essentially wipes out 99.8 percent of the world's population. Those who are mysteriously immune to the superflu find themselves first wandering to make sense of the desolation, then later inspired by strange dreams to journey west, eventually gathering in Boulder, Colorado (those who dream of the saintly Mother Abagail) or Las Vegas (those who dream of and are drawn to the villainous Randall Flagg). The novel focuses on several characters from different parts of the country as they make their way to their respective locations.

Once gathered in Boulder, this group comes to realize that Flagg's evil forces are gathering in Las Vegas and are planning to wipe them out. Mother Abagail instructs four of the main characters to travel to Flagg and engage in what will ostensibly become the final cosmic stand between Good and Evil!

This is a fun and engaging piece of post-apocalyptic literature that has its roots in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but is likewise Dickensian in its ability to begin with several narrative trajectories that are seemingly disconnected and, as the story progresses, those storylines merge brilliantly and bring perfect resolution to the narrative. It's a long book (the "complete and uncut" edition is 1,141 pages), and some of the pop culture references may strike you as antiquated, but the story is phenomenal!

It took me almost three weeks to read this (begun in Mexico, finished in Kentucky), but it's well worth it. Enjoy!

And now ... on to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! : )

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