The Stand by Stephen King (audiobook)

thestand

Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Read by: Grover Gardner
Release Date: 2012
Rating: 5/5

47 hours and 47 minutes. That’s how long it takes to hear Grover Gardner read The Stand. It’s several times longer than any other audiobook I’ve listened to and I never once got bored with it. I kept anxiously looking at the remaining time, wishing that number would decrease just a little slower. It didn’t and here we are. The Stand is one of Mr King’s most epic and iconic novels, but an older cover had me thinking it was about a good jester fighting an evil jester in the desert for 1100 pages. So I steered clear (liked I did with most King novels until recently). That’s what you get for not listening to that old idiom; you miss out on amazing things! Because The Stand is nothing short of amazing.

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.”

A deadly virus developed by the US military wipes out more than 99% of the human race, and a lot of the animals too. Left behind is a group of people seemingly immune to that particular strand of flu, called Captain Trips. Or more precisely, two groups of people. One group finds themselves drawn to Boulder with dreams of an old black lady, the other to Las Vegas and a dark figure. It’s straight up good vs evil, God vs whatever Randall Flagg is supposed to be. And some people may dislike the heavy religious theme and how religion and the “deities” seem to control the flow of events. And I’m sure King could have easily told as story just as great with maybe an even better ending, if he had left out the faith aspect. But he does like to include that, and for me it didn’t take away from the story at all. Because creating complicated characters and portraying the relationships between them is what King, in my opinion, does best, and he is pulling out all the stops with this one. The character gallery is impressive to say the least. One interesting and incredibly nuanced person after another populate the book. We follow people from both sides and sometimes the ones from the “bad” is are just as sympathetic as the good ones, which just makes for even more heart-breaking stories. Not only that, but the character development and the portrayal of human emotion and reaction in the face of uimaginable hardship, catastrophe and evil… well, I was blown away. I think King may be, no matter how crazy it sounds, underrated when it comes to his characters. Sure, he’s the king of horror and all that, movies are made, books are sold by the million. But I have a strange feeling that people don’t fully appreciate just how masterfully he developes characters. Or maybe I’m just being arrogant. Either way, it’s astounding.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

In the foreword to this uncut version, King himself mentions how he’s been criticized for suffering from “diarrhea of the word processor”, and I have noticed in other works of his how he tends to go on and on. But even though this book is as long as it is, I definitely do not agree that it’s too long, and I’m glad I didn’t have to settle for the original cut version. The long passages describing this new world and the long travels of its remaining inhabitants are breath-taking. He manages to create a setting that’s simultaneous unnerving, maybe downright scary, but beautiful and drawing at the same time. I almost feel like strapping on my backpack and heading to Boulder, Colorado myself. If I’m perfectly honest, I could have waited forever for the end of the book. The different journeys the characters set out on are so enthralling, I wouldn’t have minded if it had gone on for ages. There’s a final showdown, of course, but that’s not the end and the story could have gone on ad infinitum, as far as I’m concerned.

Mr. King doesn’t get all the credit for this production, however. The narrator, Grover Gardner, does a tremendous job. His voice acting is great and it doesn’t take long to learn how to tell the many different characters apart. Quite a feat if you ask me. I’ll definitely be looking for other books narrated by Gardner.

All in all a fantastic postapocalyptic novel that’s well worth the time and effort. So don’t let the jesters or the length of the thing scare you off; this is a read that’ll stay with you for a long time afterwards.

 

 

 

California by Edan Lepucki

california

Title: California
Author: Edan Lepucki
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: 2014
Rating: 2/5

The world, as we know it, has ended. Society has more or less collapsed, natural disasters have killed off thousands or maybe millions, the rich have fortified themselves in luxury cities for those who can pay, and some people go into the vast wilderness to try their luck away from the crumbling cities. Frida and Cal are two such people. Living in complete solitude, they try to make due with what little they managed to bring from L.A. and whatever they can grow, forage etc. Cal loves it, Frida not so much. When Frida suspects that she’s become pregnant, they set out in search of a settlement. Then it all becomes a game of trying to guess what’s going on, what’s been going on and who’s shady or not. It’s less exciting than it sounds.

I’m up for anything post-apocalyptic and California started out promising, with a lot of “hmm, what happened there?” to keep me reading. Unfortunately, the answer was often “meh, not very much.” Lepucky has good ideas for sure, but the execution is so-so and the drama simply not dramatic enough. I was promised shocks and shades of 1984 and The Road. Those comparisons almost make me want to start throwing punches. Ok, the mood started out great and eerie, the same with the setting and the potential for being unsettling or even creepy. But it doesn’t last for long. As soon as Cal and Frida goes in search of other people, that’s it, it’s all down hill from there. Not that I mind the storyline so much, and there were some pretty good elements, but the twists weren’t twisty and the creepiness wore off quick. One critic said that what makes Lepucki’s vision unsettling is its total plausibility. And I agree. Reality can indeed be bland.

Am I sounding a bit harsh? Maybe. And I guess I can forgive someone for not writing the scariest book of all time – scary books are insane scarce. I suppose I can also forgive someone for not producing big gasps with their twists. It’s not an easy thing to do and this is a debut novel. But what I have a very hard time with is lack of subtlety. Every emotional change in the characters, every opinion and thought is spelled out. If you’re not in the head of a certain character, that character will no doubt say exactly how they’re feeling out loud. Almost to the point of “grr, I am very angry now!” or “you are feeling this way right now, aren’t you?” “yes.” It annoyed me to no end. If you can’t make emotions and states of mind come across without expression them directly, well, you’re not a very good writer in my book. This is my main complaint about California and it is a fairly big one. If you don’t mind not having to gauge any situation or relationship between characters yourself, then you might not find is as bothersome as I did. But I prefer subtlety.

Bottom line, good ideas poorly executed.