Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

The Stand Audiobook Review

There was a time, decades ago, I read every single Stephen King book being published. Nowadays, I pick and choose between the more recent stuff of his, but that’s not any reflection toward him as an author. It’s more about what my tastes in reading are at this stage in my life — and it’s not unusual they’ve shifted over the years. No matter. Without question, this author has been influential in my life. If he wasn’t, I’d not seek his newer works or go back to re-read his early books. There’s only a handful of writers that I do that particular thing with, and re-watch the TV/film adaptations of his novels (sometimes referred by me as the good, the bad, and the ugly).

The Book

The Stand by Stephen King, though, carries a special significance with this reader. For one thing, the apocalyptic horror novel has the distinction of being the only book of the author’s that I felt the absolute need to stop and put down. During the 70s, I’d positively inhaled his first four books during my period of reading that literary genre (Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and Night Shift). I wasn’t aware of his work under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman then so none of those books made that era’s list. By the time I started this one in late ’78, I was myself laid up on my grandmother’s couch, sick with that year’s influenza. Maybe I got through a hundred pages before the effects of “Project Blue” wafting off those pages got to me and my own situation.

You see, the other factor in play was the gravity of losing loved ones. Done with such descriptive, heartfelt and horrific writing prowess King is known for still. The tale of a virulent super-flu wiping out whole cities, states and regions, struck home something awful. Having lost my mother earlier that same year, reading the initial portion of the book, especially in my sickly state, was just a fresh level of Hell for me. So, down came the front cover. Yet, I couldn’t or wouldn’t place the work back on a shelf. The book laid out while I convalesced — those 823 pages waited patiently, always tempting me to return to it with just a hint of anticipation. Along with a smidgen of dread. Come back to it I did, perhaps a month later.

I picked up exactly where I left it, too, still vivid were those early pages. Believe me, I wasn’t about to start the novel over again. And transfixed I was, almost immediately, as the author continued to strip away more than 99 percent of the population with each click of his typewriter (remember, there were no word processors back then). Nothing but the lucky, or unlucky some would say, few were left by the time I reached the end of part one (titled, “Captain Trips”, by the way). What the author did with the last two parts of that King-sized novel, as he collected and gathered up the survivors for a old-fashioned, Old Testament Good vs. Evil kind of reckoning has been pondered and looked at many times over by better than me in the years since (see author Joe Maddrey’s excellent take from last week, if you don’t believe me). It’s the type of book, if you got anything out of it, that never really leaves you.

About a dozen years later, by the time I reached my second year of marriage in 1990, Stephen King (now even more established and celebrated at this stage of his writing career) had the clout to push Doubleday to release his second bite of the apple with The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. This version now included over 300 more pages that expounded and brought up to date the tale to the 90s. At 1152 pages in hardcover, this remains the longest book the writer has ever had put to print (still nicks his It behemoth at the tape by a few sheets). Naturally, I read the new version over that year’s particularly hot summer here in the southland. Even with the novel’s overhaul, many aspects that marked the first with its unmistakable 70s vibe (along with its music and song allusions) couldn’t entirely be over-written.

Hell, the work would have lost too much, if it had, and taken away what made the experience fearful and obvious to those who survived that turbulent decade (me included). As much as I enjoyed his original cut of the book, his added detail with the characters and situation in this edition only made its doom-laden story more meaningful (even as the Cold War was ending). And in doing so, laid the case for this novel as the best-loved Stephen King work on my library shelf (even if it’s not the author’s favorite). The Stand still sits there to this very day (see below), though I’ve lost its dust jacket. I curse the Walkin’ Dude for that one!

The Miniseries

I realize I should mention the 1994 television miniseries adaptation at this point. The Mick Garris-directed four-part movie was the TV event for that year. The star-studded production was much-anticipated by fans of King (who also wrote the teleplay), including my wife and I. It was a worthy effort, especially for the medium, but it can’t help but pale compared to the epic source. Though, it should be noted, its use of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper made for one of the all-time best musical intros, like ever.

The Audiobook

In February of this year, released on Valentine’s Day in fact, the complete, uncut edition came available at Audible. As it happens, it was its acclaimed narrator, Grover Gardener, who made note of it on his audiobook blog the same day that brought my attention to this release. Twenty-five years ago, it was he who performed the first reading on audiobook of the original, shorter version published (one that is hard to find these days). I was surprised to learn he doesn’t have a copy of that out of print recording, either.

Even though I’m not what you’d call a long-time audiobook listener, I only started doing this format in earnest around the time of the Y2K scare, I’m was well aware of Mr. Gardner’s highly regarded work in the format by other fans. Plus, I had the experience of listening to a couple (one each of fiction and non-fiction) of his splendid readings: most recently The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips and The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few by James Surowiecki some years ago. So, I very much looked forward to this session in audio. Nevertheless, this was my third visit with the gargantuan best seller and I actively wondered beforehand if it would still hold me all these decades later with the same unsettling ardor as it once did.

I need not of worried. The author’s tale (surprisingly it only covers less than a year’s duration), winding its way through the catastrophic leftovers of mankind (a word that is its own oxymoron, at times), held me spellbound through the dead-on (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) vocal work by Mr. Gardner. It’s a stretch for some to take on a huge cast of characters by voice alone, but he made it look and sound easy. That’s no small feat since we’re referring to a lengthy book that rendered to 48-hours in audio. Let’s say that again another way: it would take two entire days of reading, non-stop, out loud to get through it all. Grover pointed out:

“It took four weeks to record, and I had to pace myself so I wouldn’t sound fatigued or thread-bare at any point.”

I’d say we’re all pleased with the effort. From this audiobook listener’s perspective, that’s a long time to be with any one book narrator. Even so, I never tired of paying attention to this vocal. I can’t think of a better compliment for what the reader achieved.

Since I work for a living, listening to this audiobook took me the unheard of duration of two weeks to get through it all (with some needed late nights with the headphones to even hit that mark). In the end, re-visiting this novel in this way proved its own reward. I came away remembering some passages with a new perspective (e.g., Randall Flagg never sounded so seductively ominous when voiced by Grover), and in others I was drawn in once more because I barely recalled the excerpt, anxiously wanting to see what the next page brought with it. The Stand managed to tug and yank at me in ways that made all these remembrances spill out when it was done. I know it’s still early, but I suspect it’ll be Stephen King, with the exceptional assist by Grover Gardner, that will be among the year’s best. Surely, it’ll be when I recall how this 34-year old novel came to dark life one more time and enthralled this old reader/listener. This turned out to be one of my best audiobooks experiences in quite some time. Kudos to them both.

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30 Responses to “The Stand Audiobook Review”

  1. Next Stop, Willoughby

    I love The Stand. I agree with Don’t Fear the Reaper being one of the best musical theme intros. I was living in Vegas when they filmed the miniseries. I met one of the casting directors when I was working at the MGM. I tried to talk her into giving me a part, but no go.

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, NS,W. The miniseries’ musical intro was so awesome, alright. That’s a fantastic remembrance for its filming in LV. I thought it great they used the old Plaza Hotel in downtown (as opposed to the MGM on the Strip from the book) for Flagg’s headquarters. Been there a number of times as it was the favorite place in Vegas for my in-laws. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

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  2. Maggie

    I love The Stand – and I have the complete, uncut edition, which makes the story even more powerful. I have yet to hear it (or any other Stephen King book) on audio, though. Perhaps the next time I go on a long car ride…

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Maggie. I’d say there are a number of great Stephen King audiobooks out there (with equally talented narrators), this certainly among them. If ‘The Stand’ is too long, try Frank Muller’s reading of ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’. It is worth the effort, IMO. A long car ride is perfect place to start. Thanks very much for reading and leaving a comment.

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  3. renfield1897

    I adored this book. I think I was fifteen when
    I read it. And I started on the uncut version.

    I finished it about 6am on a school day and had to survive school the next day trying to stay awake.

    It was at that point the longest book I had read but it amazed me and your post is right. What I took from it stays with me now ( 20 years later)

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, renfield1897. ‘The Stand’ is certainly one of those books that leave a lasting impression. Wonderful memory you’ve recalled. Many thanks for that and your comment.

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  4. Elizabeth

    What a great trip down memory lane, and reflecting on/dissecting the book from all angles platform-wise was a nice way to go about it.

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  5. Jamie Helton

    I had been a fan of the movies made from Stephen King’s books before ever reading one, and then on my 17th birthday, I was given both “The Stand” and “The Talisman.” After devouring both those books, I became a Stephen King addict. I’m happy to say that his work in the last few years is as excellent as his early novels, and I still look forward to a new King release.

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    • le0pard13

      Hey, Jamie. I’d hope you’d chime in on this. What a way to start your Stephen King reading! I heard the same from other fans about SK’s recent work. Looks like I’ve got more King left in my future. Many thanks, my friend.

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  6. theguildedearlobe

    Heck, even for me, who listens to 3-4 audiobooks a week, it took over a week to get through. I read this novel from start to finish 5 times, and have a copy sitting next to my bed that I occasionally skim through to revisit some favorite moments. I was worried, because I was so bought into these characters that i worried it would be like someone impersonating my siblings, but Grover did an amazing job. Love the review, and glad you took us through your history with this novel.

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    • le0pard13

      Right off, I have to say I really enjoyed reading your marvelous review of The Stand, Bob. Given the impressive amount of audiobooks you get through, that’s saying something it took you that time to give it a good listen. Great to hear you’re another fan of this work by King. Legendary novels like this certainly earn this kind of loyalty. Plus, I’d very agree with you about Grover’s work with it. Amazing, alright. Thank you very much for the kind words, my friend.

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  7. rtm

    That’s cool that the narrator is blogging about it, Michael. I see that as a big fan of King’s work that this audio book is a must-have for you. Great review!

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    • le0pard13

      It is cool when audiobook narrators offer up their thoughts through blogging. Always great to hear from you, Ruth. Thanks very much for reading and commenting, my friend.

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  8. Novroz

    First of all…great post Mike.
    Wow…a month to record it and 2 full days to listen to it all…what a challenge. I always get sleepy listening to audio book…so maybe one day.

    Second…I love The Stand!!! Ow I miss Nick and would love to get back to that word again to meet Nick again. To be honest, I avoid over 1000pages books because it will take forever to finish it…but when it comes to SK, I don’t mind at all because I know he will take me to an unforgetable journey.

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    • le0pard13

      Thank you very much, Novroz. Given your love for author Stephen King, it means a lot for me. It’s great to come back to this set of characters, Nick being such a noble character in the work. Yes, King’s storytelling ability makes his epic novels well worth the time it takes with them.

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    • le0pard13

      Yeah, at over 1100 pages it does look intimidating as book. I do wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook, Scott. I have no doubt it will suck you in once you start it. Many thanks.

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  9. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael and company:

    ‘The Stand’ is what I consider the last great Stephen King novel. With hints of macabre, suspense and intrigue that ran rampant in his earlier works. I still think ”Salem’s Lot’ tops his bodies of work. With ‘The Shining’ a very close second.

    I was pleased to hear that George A. Romero had once contemplated a feature length adaptation of ‘The Stand’, but a mini-series is still the best medium for such a tale.

    As for the novel. It does take some time for the major characters to be fleshed out, trimmed down and finally coalesce. Even if I did miss the extra, added edition. A superlative work, overall.

    Especially in the thumb nail sketches that developed into the memorable characters of Stu Redman and Randall Flagg, the Devil’s Imp. Great pallets for Gary Sinise and Jamey Sheridan to flesh out in the mini series!

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