(Cross-posted over at Seven Deadly Divas.)
Okay, the book itself isn’t a love story, though I’d argue that there are plenty of love stories within the plot. What I mean is, this is one of the first books I truly loved. So watch me wax all nostalgic about the book that’s at the top of my desert island list, hands down, every time the question is posed.
I must have been eleven the first time I read The Stand. I took it out from the library — this was the abridged edition, 823 pages long, a brick of a book for a sixth-grader. I can still remember the feel of the cornflower blue cloth-binding in my hands. I borrowed it again and again, and it never got old. My mother was convinced she’d be getting a call from the librarians, or that if I was caught reading it at school, the principal would be on the horn right away. (She’d later go on to say this about Anne Rice’s Mayfair witches books when I was in high school, and Mage: The Ascension in college.)
Not long after I’d fallen in love with the book, the unabridged edition was announced. It was the only thing I wanted for Christmas that year. I told my parents repeatedly that I didn’t care if no other presents appeared under the tree, as long as The Stand was there, I’d be happy. Now, the uncut edition came out in May of 1990, so I started my Christmas begging seven months early. In the end, I didn’t have to wait that long. I don’t remember why they bought it for me — probably to shut me the hell up, but I believe it was couched as a reward for a good report card — but whatever the reason, I had it in my hands by the summer.
I suppose it’s fitting, that way. The book begins in June, and the first two-thirds take place over the course of the summer. For me, even when I read it in the dead of winter, I’m pulled back to those hot months: lugging it to the beach, being careful not to get sand in its pages; reading it in my bedroom on a muggy, rainy day; sitting on the swings in our backyard as dusk slowly gathered, ignoring the mosquitoes and pressing on until it was too dark to see the words.
I’m sure there were other apocalypses before then. There must have been, right? When did I first read “By the Waters of Babylon” of “There Will Come Soft Rains?” When did I come across Z for Zachariah? At the very least, I know I’d already read “Night Surf,” a story from King’s Night Shift collection that takes place in the world of The Stand.
But this was the one that stuck with me, the one that set the bar for all the others. (And oh, there have been so very many others.)
Here’s a strange realization: I read The Stand for the first time over twenty years ago, yeah? My favorite character, Nick Andros, is 31-going-on-32 in the book. When I first met him, I was less than half his age. Now — sometime within the last year — I’ve passed the point where I will be perpetually older than Nick. It’s… yeah. I’m still working through that one.
They made it into a miniseries in 1994. I was so afraid I’d hate it, but even with the changes they had to make, I loved it. Well, except for Molly Ringwald, who I couldn’t stand as Frannie. But Gary Sinise was brilliant as Stu. And I was as terrified of Rob Lowe playing Nick as Anne Rice was about Tom Cruise playing Lestat. We have something in common, Anne and I — the actors made us eat our words. (Only, I didn’t have to take out full-page ads in newspapers to do so, or film a preface to the DVD release…)
It’s being adapted into comic book form now, which I’m mostly digging. They’ve had to move chunks of plot around to fit each arc into five issues, and the Soul Survivors storyline really suffered from that editing. It’s most glaringly painful in the development of Nick and Tom Cullen’s friendship, condensing a hundred or so pages of well-developed plot into what, twenty pages? It loses so much in the translation. Overall I’ve enjoyed it, but that issue in particular brought me very close to putting the comics down.
There’s so much I want to say about this book. I want to compare and contrast it with another favorite apocalypse of mine, Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song. I want to talk about characters and plot arcs, how things interweave, how seeds are planted, how some lines are burned into my memory (“The gun went off. Harold jumped.”) I want to nerd out over all the ways this world touches King’s others (though that is probably better done with the Dark Tower series as the central hub…) I want to talk about the miniseries and the comics, and how this one book has probably informed my writing more than anything else I’ve read. And y’know, I probably will do all those things. I smell an ongoing blog series, right here.
But mostly, I want you to read it. If you haven’t, then for the first time. If you have, then to pick it up again.
Which, if you’ll excuse me, is exactly what I’m going to go do.