[Spoilers ahead!] When I finished The Stand, I was on a bus from New York to Atlantic City. It was early, before 8 in the morning, and the landscape was green and bright. I think I’ll probably always remember finishing The Stand, reading it over these two months. I barely finished any books in June because I was so caught up in reading it. In fact, I was reading The Stand during BEA and I didn’t finish until the second weekend of July. I read a few things in between, just for a break.
Does that mean I loved The Stand? Not exactly. There were things I loved about The Stand, that’s for sure, but overall I was a little disappointed. I think I might have liked it more than I did if I had read the shorter version. I was exhausted by The Stand, by the end. I always wanted to keep reading, but I was also frustrated. Part of the problem that I had with The Stand is the lack of agency the characters had. They were all constantly being manipulated by either Flagg or Mother Abigail (or the idea of Mother Abigail). I felt so sorry and sad for the people that Harold, Nadine, Flagg, and even Mother Abigail had been. They were pawns in a war that’s never properly explained. Not to mention the way things went down with Larry in Las Vegas. I didn’t understand the way things ended at all. Why did it have to end that way?
I think the character of Harold is the most interesting in the entire book. I felt sorry for Harold the entire time. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but all the other characters came at him with an opinion already formed, even Larry who immediately assumed he was good and not self-serving. (And there were a lot of “Har har, won’t Larry be surprised when Harold is fat” implications that really left me cold.) Harold is, in many ways, despicable. He thinks that he owns Fran and when Fran and Stu do get together, Harold feels as though something has been stolen from him. He is not sad that he will not have a chance to be with Fran, he is downright livid. He goes so far as to carry out Flagg’s will. But Harold is not a sociopath. He is immature and wounded from a lifetime of being berated for being too-fat, too-pretentious, too-other. He is too blinded by his rage to see that the fake Harold, the one that smiles and works hard, is well-liked and could be loved. His anger about being rejected makes him unable to see the fact that he has been accepted. He commits an act that he can never take back, no matter how much remorse he feels. Harold is not good, but only because he chose to not be good. He chose to do the wrong thing instead of the bad thing. Not out of fear, like the other members of Flagg’s society, but because he wanted to.
Going with that same idea, my other favorite character was Larry. Like Harold, Larry is not a good guy. He’s a different kind of “bad guy.” Pompous, attractive, arrogant. He uses and abuses women and drugs. He wastes his money. He uses his mother. He is forced to confront his “badness” when he can’t save Rita Blakemoore. At that moment, Larry decides to be good. He has the power to change himself from a negative force to a positive force. Harold and Larry are perfect foils of each other. Either one could have made the opposite choice, but they did not. I liked the idea that no one is beyond redemption, not Harold, not Larry. This is another reason that I truly hated the ending of The Stand. We see that all the people who live with Flagg are not evil. Why destroy them? Why ruin any chance for redemption that they might have? I just don’t understand.
There’s one more thing I can’t understand: Fran’s appeal. She was annoying through the very end, when she decided that it was a good idea to walk back to Maine, where there are no doctors. Or anything, really, other than lots of rotting dead bodies and bad memories. For me, the beginning was my favorite part of The Stand. I will never forget many of the images used to describe the way Captain Tripps destroys the world. As much as I disliked the ending, I also really enjoyed reading Stu, Tom, and Kojak’s journey back to Denver.
Am I glad I read The Stand? Absolutely. Would I read it again? Probably not. Maybe one day I will revisit it, but I think I’ll keep reading King to find my favorite Stephen King novel.