Sunita is hosting a Big Fat Book Readalong and I wanted to participate*, which is why I’m interrupting our not-so-regular schedule with this post about a book that isn’t a romance, but it sure is long (the audio clocks at almost 48 hours). This won’t be a traditional review, but I hope you enjoy it more than I enjoyed the book. I’ll be back with a couple of Romance reviews later this week (fingers crossed!).
In high school, I used to be a huge King fan, but I never read his two big fat books: It and The Stand. A couple of months ago, I was browsing through Audible and decided to use my promotional credit on the longest book I could find, which is how I ended with this book. But with about 5 hours to go, I felt annoyed and unsatisfied, so I decided not to finish it, which turned out to be a good decision, because shortly after, this happened and I’m still trying to rinse the bad aftertaste from my mouth. Yet I wanted to comment on a book that I've been meaning to read for years, and that I found disturbing for reasons other than those originally intended.
The strength of The Stand is how it focuses on each character and constructs them in detail and with care. It could seem meandering and overly long, and I wonder if part of this individual character exploration was cut from the original version and how it affected the story, but it works in making the book about the people more than about the supernatural occurrences, which is very good because the part about the killing flu is interesting, but the part about the Good vs. Evil, borderline preachy, unimaginative Christian not-so-epic battle is nowhere near as compelling.
However, as much as I enjoyed getting to know the characters, it soon became obvious that the men were more nuanced than the women. These guys are struggling with their natures and circumstances regardless of whether they end up playing heroes or villains. With the exception of a couple minor characters, the men have stories and personalities that make them unique individuals that extend far beyond archetypes and stereotypes. The women, on the other hand, are either good and pure, or, well, have a potential for evil that’s fundamentally linked to their sexuality. And of course there’s the magical black lady, because racist stereotype**. All the women are completely innocuous and take a back seat to the men, in fact, most of them seem desperate to find a man to take care of them.
I also had a hard time dealing with the way mental illness was portrayed. One of the secondary characters is a schizophrenic pyromaniac who, unlike other characters, doesn’t have any struggle to decide which team (Good vs. Evil) he belongs to. It’s as if his condition automatically turns him into a villain. He’s written in a sympathetic, borderline pitying way, which makes everything worse because it involves stripping him of choices and personality.
And then we have Tom Cullen, another character whose choices are taken from him, and whose developmental disability is exploited in all its stereotypical glory. It’s
I like how the first half of the book consists of a series of vignette-like episodes featuring each main player. As I said, those individual journeys are the novel’s strength and structure upon which everything else relies. But that everything else is so incredibly problematic, that it eventually took over my reading experience and I was too distracted to pay attention. And frankly, I have the suspicion that the ending won’t be up to par with the beginning.
* Yes, I’m not reading along, but let’s pretend I’m not cheating.
** When I was writing the post I found this interesting article discussing the subject.