Book Review: The Stand

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If we don’t have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. When we do, we go crazy with togetherness.

The Stand, by Stephen King

I spent a month reading The Stand (the complete, unabridged version). For some reason, it took me about three weeks to get through the first half, and only four days or so to get through the last half. This makes sense, though. The first half of the book deals with the outbreak of a superflu that desolates most of the population of the United States, and the individual stories of various sets of survivors. The second half of the book becomes much more engrossing as these survivors begin to congregate and interact with each other.

This was my first experience reading Stephen King, and despite the length of the book, I’m happy to report that I remained engrossed for most of it. I’ve generally stuck to the canon for my literary pursuits, but I’ve heard so many great things about Stephen King, and this book in particular, from my friends, so it was time to give it a shot. Although starting this particular piece a month before school may not have been the wisest move…I’ve finished The Stand, but I’m hopelessly behind on the reading list for my seminar class.

In any case, the basic premise of The Stand is instantly relatable, with the idea of a virus spreading quickly and mercilessly across the population. There is a huge cast of characters with enough variation that it isn’t too hard to find someone to relate to (although racial diversity seems to be a bit too much to hope for, other than Mother Abagail, who fulfills the stereotypical role of the wise, kind old black woman). The characters are different enough to keep their stories separate in your head, and it’s satisfying to see how they interact with each other once their plots finally converge.

The Stand has a wealth of topics to discuss, but for me, one of the most important issues is the representation of women. I tend to focus on the representation of women for almost every book I’ve read, and The Stand is no exception. The main female characters are Frannie Goldsmith, Nadine Cross, and Mother Abagail. For me, Mother Abagail seemed more of a plot device and a symbol rather than an actual character, so I’ll refrain from discussing her.

Frannie is introduced early in the novel, and is one of the characters that the reader is intended to sympathize with, a young woman who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and intends to raise her child as a single mother. At times, Frannie is resourceful, clever, and very empathetic. It’s clear that the other characters respect her and hold her in high regard. As a young woman myself, I found myself initially sympathizing with Frannie, who has to deal with her mother’s high expectations, as well as face other difficulties in the post-apocalyptic world of The Stand due to her gender and condition.

However, what simply annoyed me about Frannie was that she wouldn’t stop crying all the time. Some of these moments are understandable, but often she is simply weeping at every little thing. I realize that she’s pregnant and depicted as more emotional than the average woman, but it peeved me that the primary female protagonist is constantly depicted as crying at every turn and having to be comforted by her male partner.

In The Stand, women are dependent on men, Frannie being the most obvious example. Even Nadine, who at first appears to control men with her mysterious beauty, has to succumb to the desires of men to survive. When Frannie and Harold Lauder first encounter Stu Redman, it is clear that Harold views Frannie as his property, and he is wary of Stu stealing her away. While it disheartened me to read about the treatment of women in the book (including “the zoo”), I couldn’t help but think that it was realistic – that people would be reduced to savagery in the wake of such a disaster.

YES OR NO?: YES. The Stand is a long and sometimes heavy read. But there’s something in it for everyone: some science, some magic, and definitely adventure. I’m not sure if it’s a book I’d read over and over again, but it is definitely worth your time.

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