Stephen King originally published this book in 1978, in a much shorter version - he and his publishers agreed that it was just too long. A made-for-tv miniseries was done, and it wasn't that bad a job - but those treatments of Stephen King's books, as well as the movies even when he is involved, just don't have the same "kick in the head" that the books do. Eventually, Mr. King decided to put the book back together the way he originally wrote it, and the heck with the publishers. If you buy this book, or borrow it from your local Library, take a few minutes before starting it and read the "Preface" - Stephen King explains this so much better than I possibly could (thats why he makes the big bucks writing this stuff).
Now, on to the story. First off, this book is HUGE!! It is 1153 pages in the original hard-bound edition. So prepare yourself. This book takes a serious committment to finish it, but it is well worth the read, even if you have read the first one and seen the miniseries.
This is the story of good and evil, set in the good old USA where a biologically-engineered disease, a plague, a "super-flu", is unleashed on mankind thru a mistake in containment. The results are horrific and eventually cover the planet. Our focus is on a specific group of survivors, made up mostly of the good guys, who take on the the Devil, in the form of Randall Flagg, the "Dark Man", and his minions, out to take over what is left of the United States.
The story starts at a gas station in rural Texas, and we meet Stuart Redman. As the "flu" escapes, we travel from Texas to New England, and are introduced to Fran Goldsmith and then to New York City - Larry Underwood and Nadine Cross (watch out for her!). Nick Andros, a deaf mute and Tom Cullen, a "mentally challenged" young man who hook up in Oklahoma are an interesting pair that deserve your attention.
The "flu" travels like wildfire across the country and we are caught up in the survivors stories and the dreadful things they see and experience as they begin a journey that will eventually take them to a corn field and an elderly black woman, Mother Abigail, who is the voice of Good and the one they will "Stand" with against Randall Flagg.
Meanwhile Flagg is collecting a collection of followers. These characters were some of the pieces missing from the original book - they were either not developed to their full potential, or not included. The one that really sticks out in my mind is the hot-rod driver Flagg finds in Colorado after he hooks up with the TrashCan Man. "The Kid" is really a freak - and I was both pleased and horrified by him and his exploits. Look for him about half-way thru the book - you can't miss him.
Along with Trashy, who is the resident pyromaniac and lunatic (he is much crazier than anyone else - a real psycho) we find Lloyd Henried as one of Flagg's chosen ones. His rescue from a locked jail cell by Flagg is one of the best character studies in the book. We follow the parallel travels of Flagg heading to Vegas with the bad guys, while the rest of the characters close in on Mother Abigail and then head for Colorado and salvation. I can't imagine that there are too many of you out there, if you are reading this review, that don't know how the story ends. And you are probably asking yourself "Why in the world should I slog thru 1153 pages of stuff I already know all about?"
Trust me on this one! The depth of character development, the detail in each individual journey, the places stopped at, and the chances missed and choices made are so much more vivid in this edition of the book. And it cannot even begin to compare to the poor imitation that was broadcast to the masses. If you are a true Stephen King fan - a purist who enjoys what he puts into a book and what you as the reader takes away with the experience of reading his work, then take the time and read this story the way he wrote it. The first time!
If I could change the ratings, I'd give it at least a 25 on a scale of 1-5!