Staff Picks: The Stand

Reviewed by Bill Koester, Materials Handler.

The Stand by Stephen King is available as an eBook through CloudLibrary and Overdrive.

Civil Discourse

Arguably Stephen King’s opus, The Stand is a great read in any time. Recent events, however, have made it an especially fitting tome for these times, and not just because it’s a long one (over 1000 pages) that can help pass the hours most of us are spending stuck at home.

The novel tells the story of a plague, developed as a bioweapon by the U.S. government, which accidentally gets released and devastates the world. The pages and pages describing the breakdown of society, and the military’s increasingly brutal attempts the quell the panic, are horrifying an captivating at the same time.

One chapter—depicting the course of one evening as protagonist Nick Andros works the night shift manning a small-town sheriff’s office—feels especially prescient. At the start of the chapter, and Nick’s shift, everything seems like a normal summer day, aside from the fact that a cold (or so it seems) is going around. By the end of it, Nick finds the town inexplicably desolate, until the exhausted local doctor informs him that the sickness has decimated the population overnight, including people we saw alive just pages ago.

Though the real-world situation wasn’t quite so dire, this section has the same sudden gut punch feeling as the fateful Wednesday March 11 of this year. The day began seeming pretty normal, then ended with the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic, public figures and celebrities announcing they caught the virus, and college and professional sports shutting down. Fortunately, other events described in the prose don’t feel quite so resonant to what’s happening in our world (at least not yet).

The plague is only about a third of the book, though. The rest is about what happens after the world crumbles, as survivors across the United States are divinely drawn to two communities out West. The good to Boulder, Colorado drawn by the 108-year-old Mother Abigail, and the evil to Las Vegas under the spell of the mysterious dark man Randall Flagg.

The story has elements of horror, action-adventure, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, epic fantasy, and even the biblical. There are also long portions of the text devoted to the character drama, an element of King’s work that seldom gets its due praise. The scribe certainly takes his time in some of the middle section, but the effect is nearly every character seems fleshed out and vital, not tertiary.

Reading The Stand in the middle of a real pandemic, an unexpected theme seems to stick out: community.

Sure, the novel thrills and terrifies as the best King fiction does, but the characters who make it through rebuild. Instead of reverting to brutal survivalists like most post-apocalyptic fiction, they come together, work together, work through their disagreements through civil discourse, watch out for each other, and create a thriving society in the ashes of the old one.

For a story and author so dark and macabre, the ending strikes a reasonably hopeful tone. 

This is review is part of the Finding Value series, inspired by the eleven core values central to the Library's mission. Tune in as Library staff review books and movies that highlight the values accessibility, civil discourse, inclusiveness, integrity, intellectual freedom, lifelong learning, literacy, respect, safety, service, and stewardship.