Book Review – The Stand, by Stephen King

Full Disclosure: I’ve never been a big Stephen King fan. I’ve only read a few of his books, but I had never liked them enough to pick up other titles by him. My sister, on the other hand, is an avid SK fan. She boasts that she has read every single book he’s written…which is impressive since he’s been writing for about 100 years and has 1,412 55 novels to his name (plus 6 non-fiction books and about 200 short stories).

The Stand is frequently mentioned as readers’ favorite book by SK. I’m all about second chances (but not always 7th or 17th), so I figure, let’s try this one. Surely I’ll like it better than the others. I got it from Audible and, not knowing any better, I got the deluxe edition, not knowing that it was 48 hours long. It’s over half a million words long! Ouch.

Since I typically only listen to books on the way to/from work, it took from July to November to finally finish it. And now I can give a recount of my experience: It was the third most painful book I’ve ever completed. (Can you guess #1 and 2?)

The best thing I can say about the experience is that I didn’t quit. The worst part was that neither did the book. There were at least four times that I was sure I had reached the end of the book…and then it just continued.

To say that I found it plodding would be a huge understatement. That being said, I did like the characterization. Several of the characters have stayed with me after finishing the book. The worst part is (Minor Spoiler — but shouldn’t be a surprise for a King novel) that several of those characters died completely meaningless deaths. It was a let’s build up this character for 30 hours and then just say, “Oh well, he died,” and move on. Get over it. Oh yeah, what was the purpose of the character in the book? None, really. Could the book been just as complete without the character? Undoubtedly.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t like having random characters that aren’t directly involved in the plot. I certainly do. They are frequently the most enjoyable parts of the book. What I don’t like is having 30k+ words written about a character and then they die off for no good reason and without impacting the story.

All that said, I found the ending to be even more dissatisfying than I expected. (I use the word “end” here very loosely since the story dragged on for another 100,000 words after what I think most people would have considered the ending…)

SK is, of course, a brilliant writer. He has sold about a billion books (ok, I exaggerate…it’s only somewhere between 300-350 million), so he obviously writes what people want to read. The fact that I didn’t like this one book certainly doesn’t change his expertise or the fact that he’s a role model for me. (Although I’d be quite happy selling just half that number because I’m not greedy. 😉 ).

So I did take quite a bit from the book in terms of storytelling notes and tips, clever phrases, and notes about what pieces of the people and environment he found important enough to document.

tl;dr I am glad I finished the book and I got some good stuff out of it as a writer watching a master at work, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience.

P.S. The two books that were more painful to complete were #1: The Bible and #2: Thornbirds. Let me know in the comments if you guessed either of these.