Cheeseburger Gothic

The Stand

Posted September 14, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham

Stephen King's The Stand was the first book I ever bought with my own money. This end of the world opus remains one of my favorites, and one of the few books (along with Michael Herr's Despatches) that I've read multiple times. The collapse of civilization brought about by the superflu is superbly detailed at both the personal and global level. It could stand on its own (see what I did there?) as a novel, but of course da King takes it so much further by introducing Randall Flagg and his second Armageddon.

I dived back into it again this week, but with two changes. I'm listening to the audiobook, and the edition is the 1990 re-release that returned about 400 pages to the text. Since the original 'shorter' version was already over a thousand pages long, this edition is a monster.

Thomas and I are listening to the audio book in the car. We've been doing audiobooks this way for about a year or so, given the enormous amount of driving I have to do with him. Some of those cricket and rugby fields are a LONG way away. We'd just finished Justin Cronin's The Twelve (which got a bit strange in the last few chapters) and I was curious to see how he'd react to a book I had enjoyed so much at about his age.

The narration by Grover Gardner is top-notch, but one thing I hadn't thought of was how much of the story had dated. It's not just the absence of mobile phones and the Internet, for instance. There are characters whose whole lives are simply inexplicable in modern terms. Or if not inexplicable, at least anachronistic.

The rock musician, Larry Underwood, one of my favourite characters, appears in his opening chapters dealing with the blowback from overnight success, which naturally took seven or eight years to eventuate. There are a couple of pages, or in the audiobook a couple of minutes worth of storytelling, detailing Larry's struggles as a musician. Musicians have always struggled to make a living, of course, but it struck me listening to this section of the book how much things have changed because of digital distribution. The struggles are different now. I don't know that Thomas even noticed, but for me the discussion of 'pressing vinyl', cutting an album, Billboard top 40 charts, powerful record company executives etc marked this section of the book as an historical curiosity. So too with the description of New York, which was originally written well before the city's renaissance. The New York of The Stand is the dark, dangerous metropolis of the 1970s, not the zero tolerance wonderland of today.

Still, none of this detracts from my enjoyment of revisiting the story. In some ways, it adds to it. It's like time travel. And Thomas is loving it. I've always been a fan of King's work, but I forget sometimes just how good a writer he is. The last couple of years have seen the academic and literary establishment beginning to recognise and acknowledge his achievement. The publication of his alternative history of the Kennedy assassination, which I always think of as simply '63', seems to have marked the point at which the literary establishment threw up their hands and said, "Come 'ere, you big lug, lets just hug it out."

Some of the earlier chapters where the most important characters are introduced are a masterclass in writing about the banalities of everyday life without boring your readers. Even Thomas was taken aback at how interesting King made the breakup of Frannie Goldsmith and her hapless college boyfriend, the would-be poet Jess. There are no dark and fantastic elements to that chapter, just a really keen eye for the way that human beings treat each other.

The dark and fantastic elements are coming, of course. And I'm very much looking forward to reading them, or hearing them, over the next couple of months.

Dead tree:

And audio:

40 Responses to ‘The Stand’

Spanner mumbles...

Posted September 14, 2014
Earlier in the year MrsS and I sat down to watch the stand. I'd forgotten how good an ensemble cast it had.

Unfortunately someone though it a good idea to convert the 4:3 to widescreen making everyone look fat. Who wants to see a distorted and fat Molly Ringwald? I found it that good a story that it didn't take long to forget about the distorted screen and get lost in the story.

Darth Greybeard mutters...

Posted September 14, 2014
It is better to adjust a single aspect ratio than to curse the wideness. (RTFM)

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insomniac reckons...

Posted September 14, 2014
Re The Twelve, I'm pretty sure the last few chapters relate to the first book in the trilogy, The Passage, tying up some bits and pieces, taking you back so there can be movement forward in the third book.

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pi puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2014
He has so many good books, and I've read the stand three times. I also thought the mini-series was pretty well realised, which was a bit of a surprise for me.

But where King really shines for me, is in his short stories. The Running Man, the Long Walk, The Raft, Survivor Type, The Mist, The Body, An Apt Pupil... the fact that I can rattle them off when I probably haven't read any of them for 15 years gives some indication of how they affected me.

Don't get me wrong, some of his big books I've truly loved (Salems Lot, The Tommyknockers, The Stand, Thinner, and of course, The Shining) but his short stories have actually given me nightmares (I'm lookin at YOU the Raft)

NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 14, 2014
4.14
(Pi +1)

Trowzers puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2014
I love the short stories too - the one that gave me nightmares was The Sun Dog, followed only by that awful cymbal-clapping monkey. Funny how he can make almost any household object into a menacing entity with murderous intent.

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Dino not to be confused with swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 14, 2014
Yes JB.
Stephen King has a gift.
Last book I read, of his, was The Tommy Knockers in 1992.
It has stayed with me.
First one was Salem's Lot 1981(?)
Stayed with me too.
I haven't read The Stand but watched the mini series a few weeks ago.
I remember when it came out and watching it then.
"The rain in Maine falls mainly on the plane..."

BigWillieStyle ducks in to say...

Posted September 14, 2014
I've only ever read Cujo and The Shining of King's books. Read Cujo in one sitting, when I was about 15. Finished it at about 2.30 am, and spent the rest of the night sitting up in bed clutching my cricket bat, convinced an enormous, crazed dog was going to try and kill me at any time. Scared motherfucking shitless, I was.

Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2014
Hey BWS,
Just read the wikipedia version of Cujo.
The whole notion of right and wrong is worthy of sleepless nights.
Does the abstract exist?
Stephen King seems able to tap into this question and make clear that it does.

Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2014
And Pet Cemetery.
Remember that?

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BigWillieStyle puts forth...

Posted September 14, 2014
Hey JB, I was spring cleaning today - came across all my old Rolling Stone magazines. Flicking thru the July 1989 edition - "University of Queensland student John Birmingham" got a mention, for an article you wrote called "Kuta Kapers". If I was the type who took photos of stuff and posted them on websites, I'd probably do exactly that. But I'm not, so you'll just have to believe me.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted September 14, 2014
I remember it well. That story helped get that guy released.

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Nez has opinions thus...

Posted September 14, 2014
Have read pretty much everything King has put out bar The Dark Tower series, for some reason I've found that a struggle to get through and am still only half way through it.

The Stand remains his masterwork for me. It's still my go to novel if I want to revisit his work and I'd guess I've read it at least a dozen times. It always welcomes me back like an old friend and it almost feels like we're enjoying each other's company while I'm revisiting it.

I still think of Stu Redman as a mate and still have a crush on Frannie (which is kind of awkward for the three of us when you think about it). I also like to think that Tom Cullen was George RR Martin's inspiration for Hodor, taken to the extreme. "M-O-O-N, that spells moon."

That walk through the Lincoln Tunnel in pitch black scares the shit out of me every time though.

Dino not to be confused with would have you know...

Posted September 14, 2014
Nez,
Now I will have to read 'The Stand'.
I blame you.

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NBlob mutters...

Posted September 14, 2014
You identified with Larry.
I can still hear the bullies chanting about Ol' Lady Semple's cheque and the dancing cleansing luciferous beauty that so entrances Trashy.
Says something I think.

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Trowzers mutters...

Posted September 14, 2014
I re-read The Stand a few weeks back to get in before the Incomparable podcast. I've read the book many times - it became a rule to read it whenever I was stuck home with a terrible flu. Reading when sick began as a sort of joke (and the podcast made me glad to hear I'm not the only who who does this), but it's the kind of book that holds out over multiple re-reads and it's nice to have the time to read big chunks of it.
However, this time I broke my rule and read it while I was feeling fine. Bad idea. Within in a week I fell ill with the worst flu I've had in about 10 years - I'm still clogged up two weeks later! So I think my copy has become some sort of incubator. A few more re-reads and who knows, maybe I'll spark off the events of the book.

I have too many thoughts about this book to sum up very well, but there are a few in my Goodreads review - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1022331806?book_show_action=false

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted September 14, 2014
OMG! There's an Incomparable ep???

Trowzers swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 14, 2014
Yeah! With the timing, I thought that was why you were listening to it! They published it just a few weeks ago.

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Trowzers reckons...

Posted September 14, 2014
Here it is, for those who don't already subscribe - http://www.theincomparable.com/theincomparable/210/index.php

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted September 15, 2014
Listening now. It's great.

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BK has opinions thus...

Posted September 14, 2014
POTENTIAL SPOILERS

I feel the same about The Stand (although the first book I saved up for bought myself was IT).

However I remember that even when the revised edition came out the story seemed dated and out of time. King changed all the dates in the revision so that it was relatively contemporaneous but not all the references worked when set ten years later.

I love the revised edition for all the extra story (the catholic father of the big family still haunts me) but if you want to give someone the best experience, let them read the edited original. Tighter, set in the right time, and with a superior ending.

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted September 14, 2014
It took being stranded with my unit in the desert for five months during Operation Desert Storm to get me to pick up The Stand. After we had run through all of the other books and watched The Road Warrior for the 1000th time on our way overdue Blockbuster VHS.

I enjoyed the novel but I do not think I would have stuck with it if I hadn't been stranded in the desert.

Respects,
Murph
On the Outer Marches

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted September 15, 2014

For me The Stand whenever mentioned will call to mind the song "(Don't fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, the tune is planing through my head right now. this is becuase of the openning for the 1994 miniseries with Gary Sinise playing Stu Redman.

Spoilers

The opening sequence where you see the infected staff and the guard hightailing out of the facility like the deamons of hell were chasing him all the while B.O.C's ode to suicide playing through the scene has stuck with me , as strongly as King's imagination.

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Quokka swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 15, 2014
now I have Moar Cowbell earworm.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 15, 2014
Sounds painful.

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Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted September 15, 2014


Interesting. I'm sure I read some King as a relative youngster (Christine, Pet Cemetary and so on), but Librarything tells me the only volume I still have is The Dead Zone.

I haven't yet read The Stand, but at just under $5 from the beast of Bezos right now, it's now queued up on my kindle.

pi mutters...

Posted September 15, 2014
How could I forget the dead zone?!?! One of his best.

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Rob puts forth...

Posted September 15, 2014

I love the Bachman books. Especially the long walk, creepy to the core. I might go and buy the Stand in my lunch break, nearly finished the Leftovers but still have Leviathan to re read. But what I really want to know from you JB is: what do you think of Apple foisting off U2 on unsuspecting itunes users? Seriously I feel like I've been assimilated by a mediocre christian youth group borg style. Resistance was futile , but I was prepared. I deleted it, but itunes said I could only hide it. It asked me if I wanted to hide U2, no I wanted it deleted lest it infect my entire network. Alas Itunes said no.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted September 15, 2014
I think it was a blunder. It would have been more expensive but infinitely more valuable to just give away a free album of everyone's choice.

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damian mutters...

Posted September 15, 2014
I honestly can't remember whether I encountered any of Stephen King in book form before seeing the movie or mini-series. I did marathon-watch The Stand around the time it came out on VHS along with my then-girlfriend who was a fan but never did get around to reading it. Definitely read Misery though.

Along similar lines, I'm pretty sure I remember reading The Exorcist as a teenager, though just the trailers for the movie freaked the heck out of me when I was kid. I think I avoided King for the same reason and just didn't see the point in horror.

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Rob has opinions thus...

Posted September 15, 2014

I would have appreciated that definately. So much to buy... google might do that Their range is really good. I could go bankrupt with their catalog and their wonderful prompts that show me google really do know what I like.

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Chaz swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 15, 2014

Loved 'The Stand' and like Barnes will always associate BOC with it. Although in hindsight most BOC tracks are reminiscent of dark goings on in New England and elsewhere.

But 'salems lot' stands out as being my favourite King novel read it at 15 before my o levels and it scared me to the bone.

Time to revisit me thinks

pi has opinions thus...

Posted September 15, 2014
Yeah... as I put in my faves up the top, Salems Lot was the first long-form book in my list. Brilliant book.

Another one that I absolutely loved... Firestarter.

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Chaz would have you know...

Posted September 15, 2014
And to prove my sincerity have just bought in on kindle, just don't tell the wife....

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Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted September 15, 2014
Read that 'The Stand' was Stephen King's attempt at an American 'Lord of the Rings'.
I haven't read the stand but read LOTR in 1976.
I will read The Stand but at this point in time I believe it is an extension of 'Catch-22'.
Milo Minderbinder is Sheldon.
Joe Heller wrote about him too.
Can't mention his Surname.
Sheldon from Las Vegas etc...

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Thrud the barbarian has opinions thus...

Posted September 15, 2014

Always loved the Stand because it wasn't one of King's stories that ended like a bit of a wet squib. IT drove me crazy- built to this utterly amazing ending that... just... sorta farted and died. The Stand, tho'- I love that he just got in there and, yep- there IS a God, and he moves in mysterious ways. VERY quantum physics- it's the lads' act of observation of the events in Vegas that gives meaning to the whole apocalypse- without the observation, there would be no victory.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 16, 2014
You and me, Thruddy. We seem to be the only ones who dug that finale.

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted September 16, 2014
a bit too Deus Ex Hand for my liking.

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S.M. Stirling mutters...

Posted September 20, 2014
I liked THE STAND, but if you can read the version with 400 pages put back into the 1200 page first edition, and you can't really tell the difference... then the 400 pages shouldn't be there.

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