In which I have THE FEELS for…people I shouldn’t be having feels for. Well, relatively speaking.
“Ci-a-bola, Ci-a-bola, bump-ty, bump-ty, bump! Ci-a-bola, Ci-a-bola, bump-ty, bump-ty, bump!”
I’ve talked on and off during my reread about how fascinating the various villains are. Flagg is more chaotic evil, if anything, and while he’s a charming bastard who does treat some of his underlings with kindness, there’s really no depth to him other than being the designated bad guy. Lloyd has a bit more layers—he still does bad things, but he also knows how far he’s dug himself.
If there’s any “bad guy” deserving of all my sympathy, it’s Trashcan. I just feel so bad for him and the way his life has taken him down this path that leads to Flagg. The poor kid never got any kindness from anyone in his hometown, and it’s really not surprising that Trash broke the way he did. And even after the world ends, and there’s no one to stop him from torching down whole cities, Trashcan is still the world’s buttmonkey.
“On July 18, then southwest of Sterling, Colorado, and still some miles from Brush, he had met the Kid.”
As I’ve said, it’s been about eleven years since I’ve read the original version of The Stand, and even then, I only read it twice. I mention this, as in the foreword to the unabridged book specifically mentions the Kid, who got the axe in the first publication. What I like about the Kid’s scenes, is that they’re intercut with this hazy description of Trashcan as he makes his way closer to Las Vegas. It really gives a sense of Trashcan’s state-of-mind at the moment, and just how desperate he is to get to Flagg.
The Kid is essentially all of the fears everyone else has—well, the good guys, at least. We’ve only seen one significant altercation (ilu Dayna), one potential threat (Leo) and that some of our ‘good’ guys might not stay that way. The closest we got to a newcomer being dangerous was Julie Lawry, and she seemed to be talking out of her ass most of the time. The Kid? If Flagg wasn’t an omnipotent avatar of evil, I’m pretty sure Trashcan would have been done for at the end of this chapter. The Kid, for the thirty pages he appears in, is menacing, to the point that it does take a massive force to kill him.
Religious mania is one of the few infallible ways of responding to the world’s vagaries, because it totally eliminates pure accident. To the true religious maniac, it’s all on purpose.
Interspersed with his travels with the Kid, Trashcan finally makes it to Las Vegas, where Lloyd and his men find him. Trash is allowed to rest for a few days, before he’s sent out to the work crews and start integrating into the society. And this is where my heart precisely breaks:
Trashcan Man dug into his eggs, feeling warm and good inside. This warmth and goodness was so foreign to his nature that it almost felt like a disease…
What a good bunch of people, he thought.
It’s mentioned that Trash has also had dreams of Mother Abagail, but because he’s been rejected his entire life, he’s scared to stand up to her and show himself. And Mother Abagail basically damns Trash and calls him a weasel. And it makes me wonder—if Trash had met up with any of the others, Nick or Stu or even Larry, would he have gotten the same kind of treatment as any other newcomer? He’s so damaged mentally that an encounter with one of our heroes would probably lead to another Julie Lawry situation, but I don’t put any of the blame on Trash.
And then this happens:
The hole had been throated with cement. It looked just the right size and depth to take the butt of the cross…Trashcan Man felt all the spit in his mouth dry up. He suddenly turned, first to the silent crowd…then to Lloyd, who stood pale and silent, looking at the cross…
“You…we…nail him up?” Trashcan managed at last. “Is that what this is about?”
….Good feeling’s gone.
“The Trashcan Man,” a low and charming voice said. “How good it is to have you here. How very good.”
The words fell like dust from his mouth: “My…my life for you.”
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Larry, so let’s see how his group’s faring: we’ve gotten at least three new names (the Judge and the Vollmans) and they’ve made it to Mother Abagail’s house at Hemingford Home. Yay! Except that Mrs. Vollman dies and Mother Abagail has already gone to Boulder. Not yay. But Larry and Lucy Swann have hooked up.
Larry’s faring a lot better than Stu and company; after his first failed trip with Rita Blakemoor, the ragtag group of misfits he joins up with has only had one casualty. (It also helps that they actually have an RN floating around to stave any further problems.) They also have a CB frequency to follow to Boulder, courtesy of Ralph Brentner.
This is another chapter largely consisting of characters sitting around and chatting, but we get more of Nadine and her foreshadowing backstory. With a lot of the darker characters, there’s a theme that they don’t really quite fit in to the rest of the society, there’s always something off about them.
Brother hadn’t been like her, little halfing stolen from an orphanage cradle at the age of four and a half months…Nadine had always and forever belonged to Nadine. She was the earth’s child.
(May I point out that between Nadine, Trash and Harold, the fact that all of them eventually succumb to darkness breaks my heart? Because I do believe that there are people who can be saved by kindness if it’s given to them and I just feel like that they don’t deserve to be treated the way they have. I’m a little more partial to Harold because I’ve been through that, but it feels a little contradictory that this is a story about good versus evil, but no one really tries to accept any of the outcasts. I get that at this point, they’re all so broken that they can’t turn back completely, but once their true colors are shown, none of the good guys try.)
(Also, continuing my fail of reading comprehension, I missed or forgot that Nadine was adopted. However, this has lead to new headcanon about why Nadine is specifically meant for Flagg and therefore explains a lot about her.)
A shooting star scratched its fire across the sky, and like a child, [Nadine] wished on it.
When the hell did Stu’s group make it to Boulder? The last time we saw them, they were still in Illinois. And even though I know they were between Nick’s group and Larry’s, how fast were they traveling? (I know I’ve been bitching about how much padding there is, but I would like to have had some confirmation of “Oh, btw Stu and the others made it Boulder, fyi.”)
Glen and Stu are sitting up above the city of Boulder, chatting about what to do next. This is where a sociologist would be somewhat helpful in a post-apocalyptic situation, as Glen illustrates with the number of survivors coming in daily, they need some sort of government and law and order. (I like that they’re guessing roughly 8,000 people arriving in Boulder by the end of the year. Which is still a small portion of the actual population at the time of Captain Trips, but I like that it’s a workable population where not everyone is going to know each other.)
Stu tries suggesting that they give Mother Abagail absolute veto power, and while Glen isn’t fond of that idea, he’s not stupid not to recognize that the survivors have ended up as pawns in a battle of good versus evil:
“On a God trip,” Glen said. He didn’t sound too happy about it. “When you were a little boy, Stu, did you ever dream that you might grow up to be one of the seven high priests and/or priestesses to a one-hundred-and-eight-year-old black woman from Nebraska?”
Which I don’t disagree with Glen’s thoughts here¸ but then we get the next scene of Larry’s group arriving…and they automatically go to see Mother Abagail. Which is a great bit of resonance for her character, I’m not going to deny it:
And when they filed through the gate she thought: It’s me they’ve come to see.
Larry introduces himself, and Mother Abagail and Nadine have a bit of a mental stand-off (Abagail can detect evil, she just can. This is adding to my headcanon). And if we needed anymore evidence that Mother Abagail is special and is powered by higher forces, Joe breaks out of his catatonic state:
Joe threw it off and that seemed to break the block. “Leo!” he said with sudden force and great clarity. “Leo Rockway, that’s me! I’m Leo!” And he sprang into Mother Abagail’s arms, laughing…Nadine became virtually unnoticed, and Abby felt again that some vital focus, some vital chance, had ebbed away.
(Again, I really don’t blame Nadine for what she does later, if this is the treatment she gets. Rescue a kid from going feral, drag him across the country? Oh, you don’t matter, you’re not his real mom. I just…yeah.)
This is another really long chapter, so a quick summary for the rest: Ralph Brentner tells Nick that there’s going to be a committee meeting to set up some sort of government. Nick reveals that Harold was supposed to be on the committee as well, but he’s uneasy about Harold so Nick strikes his name off.
Speaking of Harold, Frannie wakes up in the middle of the night to see Larry making his way to Harold’s house. This I do really like on Larry’s part—that even when he stopped following Harold’s signs, Larry still thought about what Harold might do in that situation. And I like that Larry goes out of his way to find Harold in order to thank him. I really liked that dynamic between the two. I’m not saying that “Oh, Frannie, you need to appreciate poor Harold!” and yes, I know that she knows him better, but… I think it’s right for Larry to go see Harold.
Because unfortunately for us, Harold has jumped off the deep end, and there’s really no turning back for him now.
It is said that the two great human sins are pride and hate. Are they? I elect to think of them as the two great virtues. To give away pride and hate is to say you will change for the good of the world. To embrace them, to vent them, is more noble; that is to say that the world must change for the good of you.
I know I’ve been bringing it up repeatedly in these last few chapters, but it does bother me that the most pitiable of Flagg’s underlings are only because society rejected them in some way. Trash is broken and disfigured, and constantly worried that he’s going to fail even in this society; Harold was so bullied that he turned to nihilism to gain intellectual superiority; and Nadine was unwanted that she pushes the thought of love away. And aside from Larry, there’s really no faults with our heroes. Even the ones who would be society’s outcasts— mainly Nick, Tom and Abagail—they have some charisma or likeability about them, and they’re not as despised. And I get that “evil can hide in plain sight” but this just feels too obvious.
Plus—and I’m not going to get too preachy, but it makes a really good point—the main bedrock of Christianity? You’re supposed to love the ‘other’ and the pitiable. I know there’s no going back for some people, but with those three, I can’t help but think what would happen if somebody had been kind to them.
I also have soft spots for Trash, Harold, and Nadine. I think King is intentionally writing them with that “so close to redemption but so far” angle. But you’re right in that it does make our heroes look like a bunch of jerks in the meantime.