Audiobook Review: The Stand by Stephen King

27 02 2012

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

Length: 47 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: For fans of this novel who, like me, are skeptical of allowing another person to become the voice in your head, bringing this world you love to life, don’t be. The audiobook version of The Stand achieves its goal of presenting this classic in a way that will be accessible for both long time fans and those new to King’s frightening landscape.

Grade: A

*Note: I broke away from my typical review format, leading to a much longer review than usual. If you are interested specifically in my thoughts of the audiobook production, feel free to skip to the final two paragraphs of this review. For more information on the recording process, check out narrator Grover Gardner’s Post on his audiobook blog.

I will always remember the day, standing on the ground floor of The Grundy Memorial Library, spinning the spirally paperback bookshelf dedicated to horror novels, when I first discovered The Stand. I was 15 years old and only beginning to discover myself as a reader. I had always read, but it was mostly school books and hand me down mysteries. I had recently started working, and had purchased my first horror novel, Dean Koontz’s The Bad Place. That day, I was actually looking for another Koontz novel to read, when I found a battered version of The Stand. It was the original Paperback version, with a ghostly face in a blue horizon, and the cover was barely held on by scotch tape. I tore through this novel, meeting characters for the first time that I would develop a life long relationship with. Now, this wasn’t my first Stephen King novel, a friend has lent me Christine a few months before, nor was it my first time reading Apocalyptic fiction since I had read Z for Zachariah back in my elementary school days, but it did bring about a transformation in me as a reader. I avidly searched down Stephen King’s books, never really reliving that initial wonder until I read It, and the Dark Tower novels. I became obsessed with Post Apocalyptic novels, consuming books like Swan Song and Dark Advent. The Stand became my gateway book. The Stand led to The Dark Tower which pushed me deeper into fantasy. The obsession with Apocalyptic novels opened the door to science fiction, and other subgenres like alternate history, time travel, colonization tales and parallel worlds. I discovered Brian Keene’s The Rising, which ignited a love of Zombie fiction. It was a slippery slope into the world of speculative fiction.

A few years after reading The Stand for the first time, I came upon the new Expanded Uncut edition. I remember standing in the Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks reading Stephen King’s message to me, the constant reader, warning me that this novel wasn’t a new novel, just an expanded version of the original. I didn’t waste a moment taking it to the front counter. For the first time, I truly met the Campion family and learned of Baby Levon’s love of horsey back rides. I met The Kid, and to this day I still believe I may have been better off never knowing him. I learned of women locked in meat freezers, and other victims of the second plague. It was like a window looking into a world I loved, showing me new things I never knew about. In college, the miniseries was about to air, and I had left my copy at home, so I scored a new copy with pictured of Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinise on the cover and read through it again. All in All, I have read The Stand five times from cover to cover, and countless times at night when I have trouble sleeping I will turn to a favorite part, and just read a few chapters.

On the rare chance you may not know, The Stand is a novel about a Government Manufactured Biological Weapon that escapes a secret military facility. The Plague was an antigen shifting strain of influenza that had a susceptibility rate of 99.4% and was fatal to anyone who contracted it. In the end, this disease, called Captain Trips, Tube Neck, The Rales, or just plain Super Flu, would decimate the United States of 1990, killing off around 248 million of its 250 million population. Stephen King tells this story in three books, but for me, there has always been four parts. The first is the outbreak, and desolation of Captain Trips, with its government cover up and suppression of news. This part is the science fiction aspect of the novel. It meticulously describes the affect this plague has, paralleling the breakdown of the body, with the breakdown of society. In the second part, the novel turns to supernatural fantasy, with a good old fashion Post Apocalyptic road trip. As the survivor’s make there was through a nightmarish landscape of death and lawlessness, they begin sharing dreams leading them to one of two locations, to the home of an 108 year of African American women, or further West, where a dark figure know as The Dark Man, or The Walking Dude is setting up.  The third part of the novel focuses on those drawn to Mother Abigail, as they set up in Boulder, Colorado, and begin the job of starting society up again. For many fans of the novel, this is their least favorite part, and at times you can feel the story slipping away from King, but as a Political Science fan, I always loved this part of the novel, with its committees, and reclamation projects. Finally, the last part, which King titles “The Stand”, is the final confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

There are many reasons I love this novel. First and foremost it’s the characters. These characters have all become like family to me. They are my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, my friends and my enemies. Each time I read this novel, I was at a different place in my life, and would find myself being drawn to different characters. I would sympathize with Harold, as I hated him. At times I had crushed on Frannie, and other times I found her annoying. What I loved about these characters was that they were never black and white. The lines that separated those on the side of good and those aligned with evil were often blurred. I also liked the crossed genres. The Stand is not an easily labeled book, and I loved the blending of science fiction and dark fantasy. For many critics of the novel, this was something they hated. It was as if the book couldn’t decide exactly what it wanted to be, but for me, this was the beauty of the novel. You never really knew where it would go. It was supernatural, but grounded in reality. The book, especially the uncut version, is not without its flaws. It can be uneven at times, with characters disappearing, and then showing up again hundreds of pages later. Also, when King edited it for the expanded edition he moved the date of the plague forward 10 years, leading to references that sometimes didn’t quite fit. Yet, none of these flaws took away from the wonder I feel every time read this novel. It is easily my favorite book of all time, and each time I end it, I wonder with sadness if I will ever reenter its world, to once again spend time with Stu, and Tom Cullen. To wonder just what Randall Flagg has in store for me in my dreams.

When I first heard that Random House Audio was doing an audiobook version of The Stand, I was equal parts excited and trepidatious. While I knew this would be another chance to experience my favorite novel in a new way, the book is so engrained into me that I worried any narrator could do it justice. Two things had encouraged me though, first, last year brought the audio edition of a book which I have also loved and read multiple times, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. I actually found the audiobook version brought about a new understanding of the novel. The other thing was that it was being narrated by Grover Gardener a narrator who I highly respect. To start off plainly, I didn’t love any of Gardner’s character voices for The Stand. In many ways it was like someone doing a good interpretation of your mother. The voice fits, but it’s not quite what you remember. Yet, more importantly, I didn’t hate any of the voices either. I loved that Gardner didn’t try to do more with each character than give them an appropriate accent, and allow subtle changes to help differentiate characters. Any narrator who tried to too much with these characters would probably have lost me. Yet Gardner did just enough to allow me to fall into the story, and by the end, especially with Flagg, he even manages to scare me a few times.

There were a few things that stood out to me with the audiobook version. The first thing, a minor but sort of fun one, that I never really noticed in my readings is that at some point in the novel almost every character wets there pants. Whether they peer, urinated, wee’d or some other euphemism, they all had moments where fear led to a bit of incontinence. There are two major aspects of the novel that I feel Gardner’s narration did a good job emphasizing. The first one was the transformation of the characters. King does a lot of work balancing out the characters story, and presenting original, and changed versions of characters. The best example of these are Lloyd Henry, who goes from incompetent fool, to Flagg’s conflicted right hand man, and Tom Cullen, who is transformed from a half wit to something more, and perhaps the true hero of this story. Gardner seems to realize this, allowing their voices to change, and fill out as the story progresses. The other aspect is that of choice. For every character there is a moment of choice. Whether it is to embrace their dark side and join forces with evil, or to become a leader despite your self doubts, each character has their pivotal moment. A lot of the character development in The Stand takes place within their inner dialogue, and Gardner does an excellent job highlighting this. For fans of this series who, like me, are skeptical of allowing another person to become the voice in your head, bringing this world you love to life, don’t be. The audiobook version of The Stand achieves its goal of presenting this classic in a way that will be accessible for both long time fans and those new to King’s frightening landscape.

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12 responses

27 02 2012
Laurie C

An extra-long review filled with small but somehow significant details seems appropriate for The Stand. Can we look forward to seeing an Expanded Uncut Edition of the review in the future?

27 02 2012
Jenn's Booskhelves

So thrilled you enjoyed the audio. I cannot wait to start!

27 02 2012
le0pard13

Great review! I’ve been looking forward to ‘The Stand’ for some time now. I’ll be doing it in March. Thanks.

27 02 2012
BarkLessWagMore AKA LaurieS

LOL, it’s funny the things you notice in an audiobook listen that you’d otherwise miss. Great review.

1 03 2012
February Month in Review, March Preview « The Guilded Earlobe

[…] The Stand by Stephen King narrated by Grover Gardner […]

1 03 2012
Dave Thompson

Excellent review, sir. Glad to hear it’s worth it’s length in audio 🙂

2 03 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I’ve never read The Stand, but maybe sometime I have an extra 50 hours to kill I’ll give it a listen 😉

2 03 2012
SuziQoregon

I have read original version of The Stand at least twice and then I read the expanded version when it was released many years later. It still remains one of my favorite books of all time.

I do tend to fear having an audio verison interfere with the characters in my head if I’ve already read a book or series. I just recently finished listening to Grover Gardner narrate a later book in a series I’ve only read up to now and I have to say I’m impressed. I definitely have faith that he will do an excellent job with this book and I cannot wait to get it from the library. I’m high on the waiting list so I’m hoping to get it farily soon.

4 03 2012
The Week that Was: March 4th, 2012 | Far Beyond Reality

[…] Here’s a long, loving review for a new audio version of an old favorite: The Guilded Earlobe reviews The Stand by Stephen King. […]

4 04 2012
David Wilcox

My son loved “The Stand” in book format. I am an audio book listener, so when it finally became available on audible.com I downloaded it the same day. I generally like all of King’s books and was not disappointed with “The Stand”. One sees many of King’s themes here which are echoed in his later books. The drawing together of major characters, the quest like challenges they must overcome, the evil incarnate central characters. I liked the audio book a lot and believe Grover Gardner narrated the book superbly. I love long books and know it was good when I am sorry to see it end. Highly recommended.

14 02 2014
http://www.lazonaoeste.org

It’s wonderful that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our discussion made at this time.

26 01 2015
Kante Anderson

The whole audiobook is free on yoube

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