Monday, July 5, 2010

It Is Finished-The Stand is an exercise in human will

Picking up The Stand in the middle of my "I'm going to read a book a week" mildly delusional phase was not a good idea.  It wasn't even an ok idea.  It was one of those plain old bad ideas that sneak into your brain through the tiniest crevice in your mind and then work their way to the front of the idea line by shoving and pushing like 14 year old girls (or 44 year old women) at the Twilight: Eclipse premiere, and then mean-spiritedly refuse to budge.  I remember exactly how it happened.  
I was packing for a 2 week trip to Florida that would involve several days of riding in the car with my parents and nights in a hotel.  Honestly, there's no better time to read.  I was just finishing up Nineteen Seventy Seven and I wanted a change of pace from my crime thriller phase.  The 3.5 inch binding of The Stand had been staring me in the face for months, ever since I'd bought it.  It was a silent taunt every time I went to my bookshelf, so much so that I had almost stopped going down that hallway in my apartment.  I couldn't look it straight in the cover; it felt like a challenge I had issued to myself that, more than likely, I would never finish, like signing up for The Amazing Race.  And on that last night of packing that idea bully punched the meager idea of "go back to your original list and just bring a couple of smaller books that you'll be guaranteed to get through" to the back and started pounding on my frontal lobe with the chant "Pack me, pack me!  You'll finally finish it!".  I wanted so badly to follow through that I weakly gave in, pulled it off the shelf and listened as it made a "thwamp!" at the bottom of my bag.  I didn't care.  I was going to finish this dammit!  And that's when the trouble began.
Not only did I not finish it in seven days or even seven weeks, I just finished it.  Three and a half months have passed in which I not only felt I was reading about an apocalyptic stand, but I also felt that I was making a literary stand of my own.  It became something more than a challenge, which is never a good way to begin viewing a book, but I couldn't help but start to resent it a little bit.
People have been encouraging me for years to read this book.  I felt an obligation to both them and to myself to finish it; after all, you can't criticize or praise anything unless you've experienced it, and now I finally have.  The only problem is, I'm not entirely certain it was worth those three and a half months.
If I could have picked up this book and flown through it, like so many fans have seemed to do, I would have probably not begun to feel like King was testing me, personally.  But I didn't.  "Trudged" is the only verb that springs to mind in relation to The Stand.
It all begins in a highly interesting way.  The end of the world begins with the turn of a light from green to red and the ominous signs of the apocalypse start to roll in.  The end of the world is carefully and intriguingly thought out.  There were several times I was impressed by the attention to societal breakdown, but there was always this nagging feeling of "I hope if this really does happen, I'm immune because I would kind of enjoy the scavenging nature of it all".  Is it wrong that I found the looting (which isn't really looting post-apocalypse) enthralling?  Probably, but I don't care. There are lots of grotesque descriptions of what the plague causes to happen to people and at some points I wanted to say out loud "Just stop".  But I meandered on, through the world of The Good and the Bad, and the Bad that are really UGLY.  Everyone fits a mold here and the characters don't really break that much new ground.  Even the characters I hoped I would like, by the end I just felt underwhelmed by them, except for Kojak, who is literally the best dog ever.  I loved Kojak.
Everything about this book, although always on the verge of diving deeper, remains at 2 dimensional, which is a disappointment.  There were several moments where I felt that the character King related to most might be Harold Lauder, which made more and more sense the more I read. His women are not written as people I could relate to, either ending up as child-bearers, sex toys, or straight up crazy pots, and there's a preachy feeling that emerges for the second half that never vanishes.  This is good v. evil, the only problem is there's so much focus on the "good" that despite some attempts to humanize towards the end, the "evil" is never anything that's truly interesting, just malevolent boogeyman stuff with some disgusting moments tied in.  I'm not really sure how to judge something like this.  By sheer volume, it gains the term "epic" but I'm not sure it's a literary revelation.  It started to feel stale and rehashed about 3/4 of the way through and by the end, I was definitely underwhelmed.

3.5 out of 5

1 comment:

Mizzy said...

Interesting that you file this one under tests of human endurance. I know that you're probably not in the mood for something of the same ilk but i'd like you to try "Infinite Jest" or "Gravity's Rainbow" next time you feel like you're up for a challenge. The Stand will likely seem like a comic book.