Random Review: The Stand

Not his best work (but not his worst.)

The Stand by Stephen KingThe-Stand-Book-Cover

After the outbreak of a deadly virus across the United States, what remains of humanity lives among what remains of society. As they band together guided by portentous dreams and intuition, they find themselves locked in a battle for the soul of humankind and each must make a choice. A choice backed by action, what one might call…a stand.

Early in college I went through a phase where I avoided dealing with all the crap that was piling up on my head by reading Stephen King novels. I read everything in the university library instead of going to class, which took me through Carrie, It, Dolores Claiborne, ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, and several more. I had heard a lot about The Stand, and knew people loved it, but I kept thinking it was a John Grisham novel for some reason and I am just not into courtroom dramas (I’m into courtroom comedies like My Cousin Vinnie and Night Court.)

I finally read it in 2012 and, while I see why people go ape over it, I don’t think it’s near the top of the Stephen King stack. It was clear that he was aiming for a Lord of the Rings-scale epic, American-style. Some of it worked like gangbusters: Mother Abigail and Stuart Redman, Larry Underwood’s whole journey, the trashcan man. The tension the author built as the story progressed was almost unbearable by the time Tom Cullen took his solo trip. I think the length of the novel helped with that. There is a good strong vein of story underpinning the whole affair.

However, King loves a sweeping scope and at some point The Stand got out from under him. Randall Flagg came across a bit too campy to be truly frightening, The Kid started as an interesting (and frightening) character but quickly went completely over the top, and Frannie lost all her spark as a personality the minute she teamed up with Harold. Since major plot points hinged on Randall Flagg and Frannie, this hurt the overall quality of the novel considerably.

King has acknowledged that The Stand didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped, but it’s still a solid novel worth reading through despite the high page-count. It just didn’t reach the heights he was aiming for. I’d love to see him try something of this scope again, now that he has more life and many more novels under his belt (no, I don’t consider The Dark Tower an example of a second try.)

Have you read the book or watched the miniseries? What did you think? 


Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I’ve Read Since the Birth of the Blog

Today’s topic is slightly arbitrary, and may be difficult because I haven’t even been blogging for a year yet. I will link to reviews where I can, and as always thanks to the ladies of The Broke and the Bookish for starting this meme and keeping it going!

Top Ten Books I’ve Read Since I Started This Blog

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Loved this tear-fest. Oh Augustus and Hazel Grace. My review is here.

2. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Once I have dollars, I fully intend to purchase a copy of this witty and beautiful book. My review is here.

3. Duma Key by Stephen King

I finished this one just before I left for South Dakota (it was on my summer reading list), and the half-finished review has been sitting in my drafts for quite awhile now. I keep tinkering with it but I really enjoyed this one and I want to do it justice.

4. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Cute and fun, a total blast to read. My review is here.

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I actually told friends that it was better than The Hunger Games and I stand by that assessment (though I was not quite so impressed with Insurgent). Review here.

6. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

Last Fall I was studying animation, and working on my own animated short. I requested this book for Christmas and read it from cover-to-cover. It’s a beautiful read in terms of art, nostalgia, and a deep and abiding respect for the singular genius of Walt Disney.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I re-read it just before the movie came out. That counts, right?

8. On Writing by Stephen King

An illuminating peek into the workings of one writer’s mind. Many passages from this half-memoir/half style-guide have stuck with me. My thoughts here.

9. Who am I Without Him?: A Short Story Collection About Girls and Boys in Their Lives by Sharon G. Flake

I walked to the library one day, plucked this from the shelf, and read it in one sitting. I am considering buying copies for my niece and sister-in-law.

10. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This one just barely made the cut, time-wise, but it was my favorite book of 2011! If this list were in order it would be number one. I never gave it a proper review, but I did write a little here.

Random Review: Gone

My feelings about this book are proving hard to articulate, or even pin down.

Gone by Michael Grant

This is the first in a series of YA sci-fi novels set in the small town of Perdido Beach, where every person aged fifteen or older suddenly disappears one morning. In addition to facing basic questions of survival, the children of the “Fallout Alley Youth Zone” (or FAYZ) find themselves in a power-struggle complicated by some individuals’ development of super-human abilities. My feelings about this book are a bit tangled, so I’m going to try and use a list to make sense of them:

  • These books are described as both a sci-fi Lord of the Flies and  Stephen King for kids. It does not have the believable psychology and slow transformation of a Lord of the Flies, the mounting horror as civilization leaves the boys one by one. The “bad” kids start bad and end that way, pretty much the same with the “good” or “heroic” kids. There is a lot of telling rather than showing with these characters. As to the Stephen King claim…Stephen King is Stephen King for kids. The stories are good no matter your age, and many of his novels and stories have protagonists as young (or younger) than these kids. A parallel might be drawn between some of the themes of good and evil, the premise (similar to Under the Dome in the first novel, blurbs for later novels indicate shades of It and The Stand). Rather weak tea, but I understand that marketing departments have books to sell.
  • I found it hard to relate to main character Sam, the “reluctant hero” of the tale. He felt like a cipher to me throughout the novel. I was told that he had feelings, longings and reservations, but I never felt them as a reader. Secondary characters like the very capable Edilio, cowardly Quinn and Astrid, and pragmatic Albert felt far more vivid to me. The book shone brightest in segments dealing with Lana, the exiled problem-child who finds herself alone and gravely injured in the desert.
  • I liked that some characters were allowed to be cowardly, and the recognition of the damage seemingly “courageous” acts can do when carried out by an emotionally sensitive person.
  • Fifteen is a weird age to disappear at. Perhaps this will be explained later in the series, but it just sort of sat in the back of my mind bugging me while I read. It seems like an age picked for convenience to the writer rather than logic.
  • The beginning progresses rather slowly, but after the arrival of the private-school kids things get crazier and crazier. This is good. When the crazy picked up (and the action with it), it became easier to get caught up in the story and ignore some of the weaker characterization/writing.
  • The people of Perdido Beach were not the only things affected by the event that spirited away the adults and granted others powers. This is another strong point of the novel.

In the end, I liked the story and am interested to know what happens to the denizens of the Fallout Alley Youth Zone, but I am reluctant to actually read more of Michael Grant’s writing. His ideas are aces, his execution is only okay. For others, I imagine it will be a matter of taste. If you are picky about writing, maybe not the story for you. If you can ignore clunky sentences and unearned character moments as long as there’s plenty of wild action, I couldn’t recommend this book more.

Chair Rating:

Complex, interesting in theory, a bit problematic in practice.

Random Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent most of today trying to dodge the impending threat of a migraine, but I think I’m finally up to reviewing the book I finished on Monday:

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

This collection of four long- and short-stories are not among King’s best. I only gave the book three stars on Goodreads. However. As my French VI professor once did with one of my lit tests (with abominable grammar), I graded up pour les idées. For the ideas.

All four stories in FD,NS deal with the shadows inside ordinary folks. People who might otherwise consider themselves “good” people, doing terrible things under extraordinary circumstances. A mid-western farmer, an astonishingly average mystery-writer, a middle-manager at a bank, and one very complacent housewife each take the reader on a journey to the heart of their own personal darkness. King is stretching here: two of the stories are written from a female point-of-view, something which has not always proven to be in his wheelhouse. The first story, 1922, is written in a first-person confessional style. Only one of these characters is a writer, and that one is female. It may be worth a read for long-time King fans, just to see the well-established writer continue to grow and take stylistic risks rather than going for the tried and true.

On a very basic level, each story could be tied to certain vices: 1922 with themes of pride, Big Driver’s wrathful writer, Fair Extension a parade of envy-borne cruelty and greed, and the complacent sloth of Darcy Anderson in A Good Marriage. These stories will keep you thinking beyond that first level. The moral quandaries presented in the female-driven stories are of the grayest hue Each of the male protagonists makes a strong case for why “they done what they did”, but it adds up to a lot of rationalizing what mostly amounts to greed and wounded pride.

None of the stories works perfectly. Housewife Darcy Anderson and mystery-writer Tess are drawn pretty broadly, and at times their inner dialogue is more like the idea of a woman than a fully-realized female. Pacing is an issue with 1922, which hums along in fine voice for long passages only to trip over dialogue straining for authenticity and overlong reflections on the narrator’s guilty conscience. The last few lines were cringeworthy, simply because I had to suspend too much disbelief (someone writing a confession would take the time to write that?). Fair Extension ends up laying on the moral a little too heavily, despite being the shortest story of the four, but it wound up being the story I thought about most when I finished reading. A few of the stories and characters will feel familiar to those well-versed in King’s work: Fair Extension‘s devil is reminiscent of Needful Things‘ Leland Gaunt, the story itself shows shades of Thinner. A Good Marriage follows a course similar to that of Dolores Claiborne, though Dolores proved a far more more memorable heroine than Darcy Anderson.

This collection is worth reading for serious King-fans, or those who are particularly interested in the craft of writing. The author tries some interesting things that work out often as not. For a casual horror-reader or someone just getting started with King’s work, it might be better to pick up another of his short-story collections.

Chair Rating:

For specific tastes, not the safest choice.


Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I’d Love to See Made Into Movies

Bonsoir Inklings, it’s time for another installment of everyone’s favorite meme from the fair maidens at The Broke and the Bookish! This week I shall share with you my top ten picks for books that should be made into movies.

Rats Saw Godby Rob Thomas

Paul Dano could make a decent Steve York

This one pops up frequently on Ink, and I have to admit that I have been mentally directing the film since I first read the novel in the late nineties. Now it would be a nostalgia piece but the core of the story is ageless, and it would be worth shooting for the soundtrack alone! Nirvana and U2, take us away…

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The film would be nothing short of epic, with Alek tromping around in mechanized walkers and Deryn swinging from helium-filled jellyfish. A good-time steampunk ride, and two more films worth of material! I would love to see some of the scenes from Goliath and Behemoth on rendered on the big screen by Industrial Light and Magic’s finest.

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey is a readymade riotgrrrl high school sweetheart. I’d take my nieces to see this movie about the darker side of instant celebrity in our digital age, and buy them the soundtrack afterward

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

The meat of this tall tale is in the interactions between its colorful cast of characters, and it is seasoned with plentiful music and exotic locales. It would be a good time watching Charlie and Spider’s cinematic journey from England to the Southern U.S., to a tropical island and a mythical realm populated with the creatures of legend. A fruit company could do a product tie-in for limes.

Christina Hendricks for irresistibly alluring (but empty-headed) Undine.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Immediately after finishing this novel I declared to the author that it was destined to become a film. The next day she announced that the rights had been optioned. A romance between the racers of carnivorous water horses set to a driving Celtic beat? Where can I buy my ticket?!

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

Perhaps I’ve mentioned the idea that this could be a Sophia Coppola film, in the style of Marie Antoinette. Undine Spragg is a spoiled, silly, striving, hilariously horrible character who deserves her moment in the cinematic sun. I’d trust Coppola not to nice her up like Mira Nair did with Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. The film would be packed with luxury goods, sun-drenched locales, and ignorant ennui set to a bitchin’ soundtrack.

The Subtle Knife (and The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

I loved The Golden Compass, despite its occasional tendency to drag, enough that I went out and read all three books in order to be ready for the next two films. They never came! This series kept getting better and better until its philosophical, nonreligious conclusion. I actually feel its important that the series be completed…and I really like polar bears in  armor.

Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

It would take a weirdo to do the Weetzie Bat books justice, like Alfonso Cuaron and Michael Gondry overseen by Block herself, but what a film it could be if done correctly! Block’s prose is tactile, and the richness of imagery present in this magical story of a unique woman and her children growing up in Lalaland would make an unforgettable movie if done well.

Summer Sistersby Judy Blume

Taylor Momsen could handle teenaged Caitlin Somers, that ethereally beautiful leggy wild-child

Why don’t we have more movies of Judy Blume books? Lord knows there’s an audience. We get plenty of downright disgusting movies about boys fornicating with pies and drawing penises in every possible configuration, but somehow the idea of a girl masturbating or having a period is still taboo. This story of two unlikely friends and their relationship, which spans decades and has a built-in soundtrack, follows Caitlin and Victoria through family troubles, puberty, coping with death, first love, gender roles and the competitions that come with them, college, careers, marriages, children, and the little-examined stage that comes after all that when the mothers are still seen as people. It could be Beaches for the new millenium!

Under the Dome by Stephen King

All I’m asking for is a good old-fashioned King miniseries, doing the book justice. Think The Stand, not Bag of Bones.

What book would you love to see on the silver screen?

Top Ten Tuesdays – Books I’d Like to Give a Theme Song

For the past few Tuesdays I’ve been reading top ten lists over on The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh, on topics put forth by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week I like the theme so much I just had to join in.

Presenting the top ten books I’d give a theme song.

1. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton – Jill Sobule “Supermodel”

The lyrics of this song really get at the core of Undine Spragg’s character: shallow, striving, delusional. I see it as Sofia Coppola/Marie Antoinette style combination. Bustles and Louboutins, formal balls and fashion shows.

2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Florence + The Machine “What the Water Gave Me”

There is a very literal link between the lyrics of the song and the content of the book, but there is also a moody wildness to the sound that suits the tone of the novel. Windy cliffs and slate-dark seas.

3.  Uglies/Pretties/Specials by Scott Westerfeld – Nine Inch Nails “The Hand That Feeds”

Would make an excellent hoverboarding song, and is up to the Specials’s level of physical scariness.

4. Feed by M.T. Anderson – Nada Surf “Popular”

I imagine this playing during one of the parties, as people are dancing with the draggy elbows and twitching in fugue on the floor. It has that sort of lethargic malaise (is that redundant?) Titus becomes aware of the longer he is with Violet.

5. Strange Attractors by William Sleator – Broken Social Scene “Two Girls”

Warning: this song is kiiiinda dirty.
Eve basically is two girls, and Max digs it.

6. White Oleander by Janet Fitch – “Wonderwall” written by Oasis, as performed by Ryan Adams

Astrid keeps hoping for rescue, though she knows deep down it isn’t coming.

7. Summer by Edith Wharton – Toad the Wet Sprocket “All I Want”

Oh Charity Royall, “and it won’t matter now, whatever happens to me. Though the air speaks of all we’ll never be, it won’t trouble me.”

8. Carrie by Stephen King – My Chemical Romance “Teenagers”

They could care less, as long as someone will bleed!

9. Paint it Black by Janet Fitch – Yeasayer “Madder Red”

Warning: This video is probably too weird for a lot of people.
I imagine this as Michael’s respone to Josie’s searching.

10. Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks – Comsat Angels “Falling”

Poor Cadel, all science and no philosophy.

30 Days of Books – Day 19 – Favorite Book Turned Into A Movie

This one required some thought because I wanted to pick a good book that was turned into an enjoyable movie. That left out White Oleander (no great loss, since I already used it). Though I adore Stand By Me I haven’t actually read the novella it was adapted from. The Princess Bride is a wonderful film but a ponderous novel. That narrowed it down to Pride and Prejudice (BBC version with Colin Firth, of course) or

It, Stephen King

I have been a Stephen King fan since I was but a wee lass: I pretended I was Charlie from Firestarter as a toddler and made mom stop driving before eight every night of a road trip to catch the Tommyknockers miniseries as it aired, but it was It that kicked off my mission to read every King novel I could lay my hands on. This is one of the better King miniseries, if not the best. There could be no Pennywise more creepily perfect than Tim Curry. The novel is a monstrous tome, and the miniseries captured the feeling of it at every point, rather than re-creating it in painstaking detail. No mean feat: It is very much a psychological scare, playing off the unique terrors of each of its heroes and victims, which is not an easy thing to convey visually.

As for the novel itself, despite  the action being driven by ageless evil that preys on children (and the young-at-heart), it reads like a love letter to King’s childhood. Summer days spent damming creeks and catching a monster movie matinee, silver bikes and inhalers rendered talismans through sheer belief in their power, the crystalline purity of a first crush. This youthful intensity of spirit and faith provides a bright counterpoint to the monster attacking children in the form of their most baseless fears, the fears that are the most powerful (and perhaps the most enduring).

The climax is one that sticks out to me above all of King’s other novels, for what it represents in terms of good and evil, courage, faith, and where humanity fits in. It’s deep, man. The miniseries managed something pretty good, but that part of the novel is just something that can’t translate to a visual medium.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who has dismissed King for any reason: too commercial, gore porn, “genre” writer. If you can’t see past the blood and guts, you are really missing out.