Thank goodness for Paperback Swap, where I was able to replace my copy of the misguided Expanded Edition with the original. I’m not sure when I last read this version–I probably didn’t get the “updated” one until a few years after it came out–but I’d forgotten quite how good it is. (Kev totally disagrees!) I couldn’t put it down for long once I’d started, and I was sad when it was over. It was partly because in contrast with the lesser/longer version, I relished the crisp pace and authentic feel of the time period; partly because whoever the talented editor was, he or she managed to cut away the majority of King’s inherent weaknesses as a writer; and partly because it is a wonderful narrative.
I’ve always been fond of post-apocalyptic stories, starting (as far as I can recall) with The Girl Who Owned a City. (I suppose the turtles dealing with the Flood in Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake fit in as well.) Competent loners thrive, and the abundance of stuff left behind creates a paradise of resources. Plus, the minutiae of daily life become interesting challenges.
In The Stand we have a classic random-collection-of-survivors team, overlaid with a Manichean struggle between Randall Flagg, “the dark man,” and Mother Abigail, a saintly elderly African-American woman. Although King is prone to creating a “magical negro,” I personally find Mother Abigail to be less offensive than his other characters in that vein. Her internal dialogue shows her to be more complex than she seems to the other protagonists, and her death isn’t just a “save the white folks” sacrifice. The unsung editor cut down the set pieces devoted to the crazy-as-a-bedbug people King tends to spend too much time on (“The Kid,” an extraneous psychopath, was eliminated entirely–I vividly remember searching for the end of his interminable scene in the 90s edition). With the crazy kept to a reasonable level, The Stand fits squarely in the SF/fantasy genre as opposed to horror (my working definition: SF/fantasy has a why, even if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; horror is not interested in why), so it’s no wonder I like it best of any King novel.