Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Stand

The Stand
Originally published September 1978

M-O-O-N spells one AMAZING and EPIC book!

Confession- I am beyond nervous penning this review.  How? How am I ever going to do this book justice? Coming on 35 years later (holy shit!), this book is still a must read for everyone!  It is timeless. An epic journey of good vs. evil.  Well, I'll give it a try. I am certain I will fail miserably....


The Stand is arguably one of the best (if not THE best) Stephen King books.  The novel is broken down into three sections.  We open with "Captain Trips" or more basically known as the superflu.  A highly contagious form of a government made virus that sweeps through the country and kills off 99.4% of the population. That was after it was "accidentally" released from a military base. Oops.
"That wasn't any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery." Thank you Larry Underwood for that wisdom. So true.
We had a brief glimpse of Captain Trips in Night Shift, but here in The Stand, we get down to the nitty gritty of what SK was imagining when he invented this virus. The beginning of the book is peppered with graphic descriptions of various nasty symptoms that accompany the flu.  Well, in a nutshell "it sure ain't pretty".  It is an interesting start to a book. We are introduced to character after character, only to read about their deaths. I guarantee the first time you read this novel (and any time after that) and you are out somewhere, and someone sneezes near you, you are going to want to run screaming from the store!  For me, the opening of this book is by far the most horrific part, as it can frighteningly happen!  Hell, we are in the middle of flu-pocalypse of 2013 right now!

During this opening of the book, we are introduced to (as we learn later) some very key characters.  Now, you can't discuss The Stand without talking about Stephen King's ability to develop characters.  He is THE master.  You can try to convince me there is another author who is equally successful of being able to do this, but I recommend you save your breathe.  Nothing you say will sway my opinion.  If you have any heart at all, you will find yourself falling in love with these characters.  There are too many amazing people introduced in The Stand for me to get into the specifics of all of them, but like any SK novel (and there will be many to come) he makes you feel what is going on by how well he connects you with his characters.  Even his nastier ones....but we'll get to that in a moment.

The second section of the book is "On The Border".  This part of the book chronicles the survivors of the superflu and their next steps.  People begin having dreams or nightmares of two separate people.  A charming (albeit very old- 108 years old!) woman, named Abigail Freemantle or Mother Abigail,who resides in Hemingford Home, Nebraska.  It becomes clear, very quickly, she represents "good" for the survivors.  People are drawn to her and want to be with her. And then there is the Dark Man. It is during the second part of the book we get our first good glimpses of Randall Flagg, also known as the Dark Man or the Walking Dude. He is set-up as the evil adversary to all the good Mother Abigail represents.

As people flock to either Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg, there is a divine line drawn in the sand.  Do you represent good or are you evil? See where we are going with this?  Good vs. Evil? Ultimate showdown? I mentioned before it is a reoccuring theme that SK incorporates into many of his stories.  No novel does it better than The Stand.

Mother Abigail directs her "followers" to Boulder, Colorado (aka The Free Zone) where they restart life after the superflu, all the while trying to garner a plan on what to do about Flagg.  Randall Flagg on the other hand has dug in, and commands his supporters in Las Vegas (and seriously, could he have picked a better spot?).  It is clear through the pages that Flagg means business and won't tolerate anything outside of his strict plan. While life in The Free Zone is a little less structured. They flounder, struggle to maintain direction, and slowly start to fall into a pattern that mimics life before the superflu. Is that necessarily a good thing? Do you want a government again? They caused this in the first place.  It leads to interesting thoughts and questions if you wish to sit and dissect your thoughts.  Even more interesting with the constant debate these days on how much involvement our government should have over matters.  See? I told you the book was timeless. 35 years later and it still mimics real life.  Boy, I got off topic there....

The Third section of the book is called "The Stand".  It sets up our two sides to make a final confrontation. In the process of getting to that point in the story, some wonderfully interesting things start to happen.  Mother Abigail feels she shamed herself in God's eyes by being too proud of her role in what is going on.  She goes on a "journey" to punish herself and make herself right in God's eyes again.  Only to return near death but with news God wants four of the key characters to head West to see the Dark Man. Say what?!? Walk into the hands of the Dark Man. Ok....

While in Vegas, you start to get snippets that maybe the Dark Man isn't as all powerful as he believes. Things start to go wrong, things are missed, plans don't go as they should. His followers start to take matters into their own hands. The end is quite fascinating, as in, it probably isn't the end you expected would be coming.  Flagg and his followers come to their demise through a combination of one of Flagg's own people (which I love this irony) and what appears to be the hand of God reaching down to smack out evil (literally).  I loved the end because it does become a showdown of good (God) vs. evil (Flagg/ Satan?). You have to know who is always going to win. Predictable? Maybe. But it never takes away from the impact of the book.

We may lose some wonderful characters through this book (ok, we lose a shit ton!) but the ending is sweet in that our survivors start to rebuild and start over.  Happily ever after? Well, that remains to be seen, but I love the message that SK leaves on us.  Repeat the mistakes we once made, where will we end up again?  If you read the extended and uncut version of the book, the ending also leaves you with a lead-in of things that are to come.  We see Randall Flagg (well, with his new name of Russell Faraday) being reborn. We can all hunker down and get comfortable with Flagg.  He'll be making quite a few appearances (in some shape or form) in many novels to come.  

Recapping this book just doesn't do it justice.  Nothing can do it justice other than picking it up and reading every last word.  It includes some of the best characters to grace a page, an AMAZING (yet horrifying) premise to the story, a satisfying ending and everything in between.  Clearly, The Stand is a favorite for me.  I can talk about it till I am blue, but you'd do better just to pick it up and read it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Night Shift

Night Shift 
Originally published February 1978

Not every author can master a short story.  Many try but fail to produce that story that grabs you and leaves you thinking about it.  Stephen King is the exact opposite.  Over the years, he seems to churn out these bite size stories that leave you breathless!  Night Shift is the first compilation of short stories SK released. Many had been published in magazines prior to the books release, but for the purpose of this reread, I added these stories based on the actual book's release date.

As with many SK stories, he likes to include snippets or "Easter eggs" of characters or information from previous stories. This collection of short stories is no different.  We kick off with Jerusalem's Lot, a story that takes us back (in place) and back (in time) from Salem's Lot.  It was an interesting prequel to Salem's Lot.  I loved getting the beginning story of Jerusalem's Lot and the "residents" from there.  The history of the family that seems to be drawn to the area made this story particularly interesting.  SK, as usual, adds his touches of humor to the story   I love that the characters thought the "things going bump in the night" were rats. You could almost hear them thinking "those are some big fucking rats!"  The flip side to this short story is One for the Road.  Now we get a story that takes place after Salem's Lot.  As much as I liked, Jerusalem's Lot, I LOVED One for the Road.  Suspenseful and compelling.  You know it is not going to end well. You see it coming pages before the end, but you just can't put the story down. You have to see what happens to that poor family. SK delivers a wonderfully descriptive ending that leaves you seeing the terror unfold. Excellent story.

Even though we haven't gotten far enough into the reread to have included The Stand yet- I must point out the story Night Surf.  It is an intriguing post-apocalyptic story of a group of "survivors" who have lived through a virus called "Captain Tripps" that wipes out most of the population.  Sound familiar?  No? Well it will soon if you are reading along with me.  It does make me want to ask Mr. King himself "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"  I haven't researched this story to see if it is the actual idea behind The Stand or was The Stand in the works already and this short story sort of jumped off in the sidelines?  Either way, it is a great addition to Night Shift.

Not all the stories are SK's best. But that is to be expected.  It is hard to pull the reader into every short story and make them feel compelled to care about the characters in such a short amount of time.  The Mangler stands out as one of the weaker stories. Or I could just be jaded over the fact I actually went to the movies to see that monstrosity when it came out. Hubby and I hid in our seats till it was over, we were so embarrassed to be there. Ah, such is my love for SK that I volunteer to sit through shit movies that have his name attached to them.

I can't conclude this review without including some thoughts on Children of the Corn.  Probably one of the creepier stories of the bunch.  A poor couple happen upon a nearly deserted town to discover it is being run by "evangelical" children who sacrifice themselves to a corn demon?  The imagery depicted as the children chase Burt through the corn while carrying sickles and machetes is horrifying.  A perfect mix of horror, creep and gore. For what it is worth, Children of the Corn is one of the better adaptions of an SK story into a movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. That kid who played Malachai was batshit crazy and absolutely outstanding! He still gives me the creeps!

All in all, if you are a fan of short stories, Stephen King will not disappoint!  He is a master of making each one count and grab you from the beginning.  I find these short story collections to be such fun reads. You can usually get through one a night.  It leaves you going to bed digesting the events you just took in, and then on to the next the following day. Perfect if you ask me!