Monday 18 April 2016

Book Club: Katie and Judith read Stephen King's The Stand - Book 2, Chapters 51-60.

This update is rather belated as I spent a week somewhat appropriately struck down with the flu. I never get flu - I think this is the second time in thirty years, and so the timing of this was rather hilarious.* In the second half of Book 2 of The Stand, all our good guys have come together and settled down in Boulder, Colorado, and are working together to form a new society, known as The Free Zone. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, the evil Randall Flagg has got his own community.

Spoilers aplenty! Read on at your own risk!

Life in the Free Zone

  • Judith got very annoyed that even after the world's been turned upside-down, there seems to be the old expectations of gender roles: the women (ie Frannie) do the housework, while the men go out and do manual labour. Of course, we only really see the domestic arrangements of a few families. But Stu seemed surprised at first to see Frannie washing and mending when there are stores full of clothes for the taking. But that's no way to live - chuck out clothes instead of washing them. Still, Stu is a Good Egg and promises to take turns hand-washing the laundry (at least until the power's back on and "Frannie" can use a washing machine again.
  • And anyway, what are they doing with all the rubbish, all the empty food cans and waste? I didn't see any mention of bin men. Is the water still on? Do they have a plumber? These are the details we want to know!
  • Judith's grumbles of last week were that the Free Zone residents appeared to be recreating the same old way of life as they were familiar with from the old America. But money is useless now. Ownership doesn't seem to matter. If what you need is available, it's there for the taking - if it isn't, improvise. 
  • Of course, these resources won't last forever. For now, the Free Zone residents just want to survive the winter.

The Committee

  • There are a lot of committee meetings in this part of the book! And sure enough, most of the named protagonists are on the committee - it does seem a little bit cliquey, and we didn't much like Glen Bateman's conversation with Stu in the previous section, which seems to be all about how to ensure that their in-crowd get nominated. 
  • One of their tasks is to organise a team of spies to go over to Las Vegas against Flagg, and I didn't feel at all comfortable with the way that this group of seven took responsibility for picking out their "volunteers" in their absence, in full knowledge of their probable fates. For two of the spies, at least - the Judge and Dayna - they would at least get to make an informed decision, even if they can't very well feel able to decline. But the third was the mentally challenged Tom Cullen, and that just doesn't sit right with me. But, although Tom is "not playing with a full deck," it seems that he's got the rest of his cards stashed away in his subconscious, so if you hypnotise him, he's able to understand and consent to being sent off on his own into mortal danger, even if he doesn't remember it afterwards. No, this did not sit well with me at all.

Nadine, Harold - and Larry

  • It's a very black-and-white world: there are the good guys and there are Flagg's people. Nadine and Larry are on the line - they could go either way. One decision shapes both of their fates: when Nadine tries to seduce Larry, but he's having none of it. It seems quite rare in fiction for a character to actually resist temptation! So, good for Larry. It's just a shame bad consequences came of him making the right decision...
  • Yet, as Judith pointed out, Larry cannot be held responsible for Nadine's actions, and if it was the moment that marked Nadine's downfall, Larry's choice of loyalty to Lucy over lust was the moment that marked his redemption. If he'd gone with Nadine, would he have been able to save her - or would she have dragged him down with her? (I see parallels of abusive relationships where one person thinks they can change another.)
  • Instead, Nadine turns to Harold, and this is where his nastiness, his martyr complex and his venomous hatred turn his loyalties over to Flagg once and for all. I was still shocked by what happened next...

Wasted Characters?

  • I was Most Displeased by the death of Nick Andros in Harold's explosion. Nick had been my favourite protagonist in the first book of The Stand. but once he arrived at Boulder he seemed to disappear somewhat. Sure, he sat on the committee, and his connection to Tom was a key plot point, but it felt rather as though King didn't know what to do with him, so got him blown up, instead! As Judith pointed out, his lack of a voice meant that he kind of got lost in the crowd once Boulder began filling up with people.
  • Similarly, Mother Abagail, who was such a strong force for good, just vanished halfway through the book, returning to bring prophecies and then die. Her role seemed to be as a catalyst for plot events, rather than as an actual character.
Predictions for Book 3:
  • That the focus will shift to the four remaining white (probably) male able-bodied members of the committee as they trek out to Las Vegas to confront Randall Flagg somehow.
  • Somehow the four of them: Stu, Larry. Glen Bateman and Ralph (who we don't really know very well) have to take on Randall Flagg and his entire company. It seems like a doomed mission of foolishness, and I just don't know how they can hope to win in whatever battle is coming up. I'm sure they will defeat - if not destroy - Flagg, but King's got his work cut out to impress me with whatever deus ex machina he'll use to make this a battle and not a suicide mission.**
  • Mother Abagail predicted that one member of the group will die. That seems to fit Larry's journey of character growth: redemption equals death. 
  • Judith reckons that the book might end with the beginning of the battle.
  • I think that whatever happens, the population will suffer even more great losses, and will end up starting another new society from scratch, with a very small and simple community. Perhaps it will end, after all, in Mother Abagail's farm.
  • I'm pretty sure Stu and Frannie will survive, and we've had so much invested in Frannie's baby that I really hope that it will live too. As a family, they'll be a symbol of hope for the future in a broken world. Also I feel like Tom Cullen has a charmed aura of Author Protection. Despite all the odds, he'll be okay.

*Not hilarious.

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