I'm still a tad uncertain about Stephen King. Sometimes I see him as a misunderstood genius on the verge of literary greatness; sometimes he strikes me as a hack genre writer with no filter. The Stand didn't help me solidify my opinion, not that my opinion on the issue should matter. Regardless of King's talents, I found The Stand to be a mix of good and bad.
King is an excellent storyteller. He also understands characterization. Combine those and you've got a really entertaining novel.
The Stand is a great story. The idea of taking the book of Revelation, retelling it in a way with a government-spawned plague at its center, and throwing the few remaining people together is phenomenal. The dreams, the cross-country trek, did I mention the plague—all these things add up to a really great story. And the characters. Sure, some seem a bit too cliché, but they're memorable. They bring many different elements to the table, and when you throw them together in a plague-destroyed setting one summer, there are bound to be fireworks. Glen Bateman, Larry Underwood, Tom Cullen, Lloyd Henreid*—these are characters I will likely always remember.
King probably should've accepted the cuts his editors made. The Stand, the uncut and unedited version, is way too wordy, and too much story. In his preface, King mentioned how, in the first published 1978 edition, the story of The Kid was largely cut, along with Franny's confrontation with her mother. Yeah, there was a reason for that. The meetings that take up half the book, complete with the meeting's minutes in their entirety was too much. Town Hall Meeting after Town Hall Meeting. And did I mention The Kid? Horrible, horrible character and unnecessary story added to a book that otherwise made sense—in a supernatural way. Save him for a short story, or better yet, just trash him.
The dialogue. Who talks this way, happy crappy? Over half the characters are either hick or speak their own language. Now, this may be in part due to the time inconsistency. Yes, that big inconsistency that really makes this novel off-kilter. The Stand was published in 1978. The novel is set in 1990. Okay, so we're dealing with the future. But the book makes many references to things that happened between 1978 and 1990—Reagan, Bush, Madonna, etc.—so either King is the most accurate prophet I've come across, or he updated the text. Big mistake in my opinion. The anachronisms drastically stand out. Yes, we're talking ten years. Big deal, right? But it is. Something happened between 1978 and 1990 that shifted culture drastically. Don't believe me, watch Forrest Gump. Better yet, check out the top music hits of 1978 and compare it with the top hits of 1990. Looking at those clips, it's more than music, more than style: in the 1990s, America was finally making an attempt at multi-culturalism. By the standards of 1990, the views expressed in The Stand are embarrassing. And don't get me started on King's treatment of black people in the novel.
So, all in all, a great story with memorable characters, but I think I would've enjoyed this better in its original form. For my next attempt at King, I think I'll go with On Writing. I'm curious about his views on editing since he clearly lacks (ignores?) his own internal editor.
*Earlier I mentioned the great characters. You may have noticed they're all men. I could add more to my list of great characters and the list would still be exclusively male. Apparently the plague has largely wiped out the female populace, and those left behind really aren't that instrumental to the plot. Franny, Nadine, Dayna, Lucy—they're straight out of Dickens—to be adored, and if needed, to serve as catalysts for the adventure the men have gotten into. At least the sexism was doled out in equal measure to the xenophobia.