The 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #17, bids me read a medical thriller. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant. My first thought was of the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell. After perusing the suggestions by the Popsugar group on Goodreads, however, I ultimately settled on The Stand, by Stephen King. This was already on my want-to-read list after PBS put out their Great American Read list in 2018.
To be honest, I’ve avoided reading Stephen King’s books, never feeling that horror was a genre I could really enjoy. One of the purposes of this reading challenge is to expand my reading experiences, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m really glad that I did.
The Stand is the story of a man-made pandemic. A bio-engineered virus leaks out of containment and sweeps rapidly across the country. The first part of the book introduces a large number of characters, spending a bit of time on several. We meet Frannie Goldsmith from Ogunquit, Maine, a young college-age woman prone to the giggles who has just found out she’s pregnant. There is Nick Andros, a deaf-mute drifter who finds himself in the small Arkansas town of Shoyo when the epidemic hits. And Larry Underwood, a rather self-centered singer-songwriter caught up in the throes of sudden success who returns home to his mother in New York deeply in debt. These three, along with a handful of others, find themselves among the few survivors.
In the second part of the book, King makes what felt to me like a sudden shift. All those who survived the flu seem to have an unexpected psychic connection. They begin experiencing shared dreams, many of which are nightmares. The dreams direct them to one of two places where survivors are gathering, one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Las Vegas, Nevada. The final section of the book brings the rising conflict between these two communities to its ultimate end.
Stephen King is a master of suspense. In this book he turns an innocent cough or sneeze into a terrifying threat. His characters are well-drawn and believable. My favorite is Tom Cullen, a man in his forties who is mentally challenged. Nick Andros encounters Tom as he is passing through Oklahoma on his way to Nebraska in response to a dream. Tom’s childlike innocence is funny and delightful in the midst of the truly horrible circumstances going on around him.
This story is brutal and gruesome. King doesn’t hold back on the horror. But there are also moments of humor and tenderness. The characters change and grow as a result of their circumstances. Some for the better, some not so much. The supernatural element of the story comes on very strong in the middle of the book, and with little preparation. Other than that, however, this is a great book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.