Every writer must dream of the day that they write the book that defines them and their writing career. Undoubtedly, The Stand is the jewel in Stephen King’s crown. It is also his longest by far with the original version being close to 900 pages and the extended version close to 1200.
It is broken down into three parts and starts with a simple premise that is all too familiar today: a genetically engineered form of flu has been released upon the world. The mortality rate is in the region of 99.9% and the US authorities try and then fail to contain it. As people die and societies collapse, we follow those who are immune as they struggle to cope with the end of the world and decide what to do and where to go. Guided by dreams of a sinister figure named Randall Flagg and the benign Mother Abigail, our survivors gravitate in one direction or another.
This part of the novel is a rollercoaster of action as we witness the spread of the disease and chaos as people realise that social conventions no longer apply. Some of this is over the top but you can imagine probably realistic as we must accept that the only reason some people don’t do bad things is because they don’t want to be punished.
The second part shows the various survivors as they being their cross-country journeys to meet either Mother Abigail in Boulder, Colorado or Randall Flagg in Las Vegas and begin to re-build society.
For me, this is where the novel really comes alive and justifies the length of the novel. King leaves no stone unturned as he portrays an American landscape devastated first by disease and later by panic. Cities where bodies are everywhere, tunnels are jammed with broken down vehicles, fires rage with nobody to put them out and buildings crumble.
In the third section, the two cities are now fully aware of each other and the threat that each poses to one another. There must be a confrontation and Mother Abigail chooses a small group to go to Vegas and confront Flagg.
Poignantly, the novel finishes on a note discussing human nature. Will we ever learn from our mistakes or are we doomed to keep repeating them over and over again?
No review could ever do this book justice and there is much that I have left out. It is down to you to discover for yourself what an amazing book this is.