Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware that I love Stephen King.
I've loved so many of his books that I've read them multiple times. In fact, there are only a couple of his that I didn't much care for, and I should probably read those again--Pet Sematary, Dreamcatcher, The Tommyknockers, Rose Madder--but those weren't terribly written; I just didn't much care for the story. (I daresay I disliked Pet Sematary because it made me extremely uncomfortable) From the first time I read Carrie, I became a fan. 'salem's Lot confirmed my fandom, as did The Shining. When I finally reached the point where I could afford them, I started buying his books in hardcover on their release date; I believe the very first one I bought that way was Christine; and I have bought every one of them on date of release in hardcover ever since. (Unless, of course, it wasn't published in hardcover.)
But my favorite is The Stand; always has been, and probably always will be.
I was in college when it came out, and I got my copy from either the Literary Guild of the Book of the Month Club; I don't remember which. But I do remember the day it arrived, and I got terribly excited. It was, for one thing, much longer than his previous books at 873 pages, and I had no idea what it was about--and the jacket copy didn't really provide very much insight. I sat down on the couch, and started reading:
Hapscomb's Texaco sat on US 93 just north of Arnette, a pleasant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston. Tonight the regulars were there, sitting by the cash register, drinking beer, talking idly, watching the bugs fly into the big lighted sign.
By page 2, I wasn't interested and put the book down, enormously disappointed. Every King novel I'd read thus far had thoroughly grabbed me by the throat by the second sentence; I didn't get this one and I didn't care for it. Why on earth would I want to read about a bunch of unemployed rednecks in a small town in Texas?
And I went to class.
A few days later, I woke up on a day off. I had a paper due but wasn't particularly interested in writing it; it was one of those typical mornings for a lazy student like me where I had plenty of homework to occupy my time but I didn't want to do any of it. The Stand was sitting on the coffee table where I'd left it; so I sat down on the couch and grabbed it, thinking, Well, at least finish the first chapter and then decide if you want to continue.
I was riveted.
I'd never read anything like it before; granted, at that point in my reading life I'd primarily read mysteries, classics, popular fiction, and literary fiction. My reading in the horror genre was pretty limited; The Exorcist, Ira Levin, and the only book that remotely came close to this--I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. But the Matheson was terribly short, and the end of the world had already happened in that book. In this book, King detailed just how exactly the world was going to end, and how it happened. Each chapter introduced us to a new character or an update on the situation: poor pregnant nineteen year old Frannie, breaking the news to her boyfriend and realizing she doesn't want to marry him, after all; the super-secret military base where something has gone terribly wrong, resulting in the car crash at the gas station in Chapter One, where we also meet Stu Redman; Larry Underwood, the on the brink of stardom singer/songwriter who's gotten himself into some trouble and is a bit on the self-absorbed side (I'll never forget the line Larry, you remind me of biting into tinfoil); deaf-mute Nick Andros, and so on. There's also an absolutely brilliant chapter, a mere three pages, about how the super-flu germ, accidentally released and spread out into the world, spread across the country.
And everyone dies except maybe 1% of the world's population.
And then the real story begins.
I only took breaks from reading the book to eat, get something to drink, and go to the bathroom. I stayed up until around two in the morning reading, because I couldn't stop until I finished reading it. And when I finished it, I'd cried a few times, and was completely in awe of Stephen King's prodigious talent. I've obviously loved other books of his since, but The Stand has always remained my favorite. I've taken it down and reread it every year; the thing that perhaps struck me the most about the book was how brilliantly even the villains were written, developed, and explored--Harold and Nadine in particular. I understood them, got their motivations, and hoped against hope they'd redeem themselves (M-O-O-N, that spells redemption, laws, yes!). There were so many characters, so many stories and sub-plots that resonated. Even the most minor characters were fleshed out and believable.
I love this book.
I was very excited when it was republished with all the stuff King's publisher made him cut out in 1990:
At 1152 pages, there was about 300 pages of extra material. I sat down and started reading.
I had assumed, of course, that the extra 300 pages would be more story; I was wrong. Instead, those 300 pages made the novel more layered and textured, developed the characters still further than they had been in the original published form. It made the experience of reading it, already powerful, that much more powerful.
I would recommend the uncut version to someone interested in reading the book.
I'd always thought it would make a great film, if done right; it was eventually filmed in the early 1990's as a mini-series for television, which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I didn't really agree with all of the casting choices.
It stayed pretty true to the book, and I enjoyed it--but it wasn't great.
Anyway, thanks, Mr. King--if you'd never written another book this one was enough to make you one of my all-time favorite writers, if not the favorite.
And it's also the standard by which I judge all apocalyptic novels.