In which, NICK YOU WERE THE GREATEST MAN I EVER KNEW
I mentioned last week that up until a few chapters ago, there really hadn’t been any experience of the supernatural or the fantastic by Our Heroes (excluding the prophetic dreams), and then we had the hypnotism scene with Tom. I do like that Mother Abagail hasn’t displayed any sort of powers (yet) or anything that overtly influences people to come over to side of the good guys. In fact, if you leave out a few scenes, just leaving the prophetic dreams, this could have been told just as well being about a group of ordinary people going up against the Antichrist, who not only has magic but access to technology.
But, as it’s been mentioned throughout the book, there are larger Powers at Be at work here, and Our Heroes aren’t the ones to notice things right away. They need a gentle nudging.
Larry started to ask how Leo and Dick had gotten on that subject, and then didn’t. The answer, of course, was that they hadn’t. Dick wouldn’t talk to a small boy about something so personal as making a baby. Leo had just…had just known.
Unlike the Tom scene, I think this is slightly creepy in that Leo isn’t nudged into going into these trances. (Actually, part of me thinks that the Higher Power needed to go in and move the plot along; considering what’s going to happen. By Higher Power, I mean Stephen King.*) It’s kinda…off, when he’s starts yelling about Frannie and how she and Larry both know the same things. And also, I think unfortunately Leo is the only who grasps what’s happening with Nadine when he does go into these trances and he does want to save her from Flagg. Except that Flagg’s hold on Nadine is so strong at this point, that even a higher-plane Leo can’t do anything.
Anyway. Going off Leo’s tip, Larry goes to see Frannie and the two of them start comparing notes about Harold’s behavior of late. Frannie relates her entire history with Harold, ending with her discovery of the chocolate thumbprint in her notebook.
“…Harold reads your diary and not only gets an earful but an idea. Hell, he might have even been jealous that you thought of it first. Didn’t all the best writers keep journals?”
“Are you saying Harold’s got a diary?”
I will give Larry and Frannie points for thinking of the variations of Harold having a diary: that it could be nothing; it could be like Frannie’s; it could be in code. (Oh, coded diaries, that could be really interesting.) The two agree to go to Harold’s house the next day and do some more investigating.
The other big development that after a few weeks of tinkering around, the Power Committee finally figured out how to get the generators working! They nearly blow up half of North Boulder, but hey! Progress! Electricity!
Onto the Adventures of Inspector Underwood and Frannie. The two of them break into Harold’s house, hoping that he would figure that the broken window is the result of some kids. So, they start in the basement and carefully make their way upstairs.
“Building walke-talkies instead of mousetraps,” Fran said.
“No, this wasn’t a kit. You buy this kind ready to go. Maybe he was modifying them somehow… Remember how Stu bitched about the walkie-talkie reception when he and Harold and Ralph were out hunting for Mother Abagail?”
She nodded, but there was still something about those bits of wire that bothered her.
OH FRANNIE. Maybe the Invisible Hand could push you to a clearer conclusion about those as well.
Larry and Fran uncover Harold’s journal and start leafing through it. It’s not in code at least, but it’s mentioned that Harold’s writing style is so cramped and small it’ll take days to read through everything. (As someone with pretty bad chicken scratch—my boss can attest to this—I sympathize. I’ve had days flipping through my notebooks, thinking “What the hell did I write?”) But it may just be easier for them to take a look at the sections Harold so carefully boxed off.
The first sentence in Harold’s ledger: My great pleasure in this delightful post-Apocalypse summer will be to kill Mr. Stuart Dog-Cock Redman; and just maybe I will kill her too.
Because things are ramping up this part of the book, while most writers would have ended the chapter there (and let’s be honest, that is a great “OH FUCK” line that makes you want to know what’s to happen next), we’ve still got more of the chapter.
Nadine heads to Ralph and Nick’s house to drop off groceries. And by drop off groceries, I mean she sets them up the bomb. She hides the bomb in a the living room closet, all the time confused about whether or not she should really do this.
And as she’s leaving,
The dark man entered her, and he was cold.
This whole passage is creepy and wrong and just so well-done. There’s a fine line to walk with omnipotent Big Bads (or even Big Goods) in that if the villains/good guys know EVERYTHING the other side is doing, then how is everything going to play out? Granted, Flagg’s warning is more to tell Nadine to get out of Boulder with Harold before Stu and the others come around, but still. And again, the whole description of Nadine being violated by Flagg—even psychically—is disturbing.
“DO WELL NADINE,” the voice boomed. “DO WELL, MY FANCY, MY DEAR ONE.”
*Again, I haven’t read Dark Tower, but I know what happens in the last three books and that he shows up and yeah, that’s one of the big reasons why I haven’t read that series. But that’s not for here.
Back with Our Heroes, Fran and Larry are sitting around while Stu reads through Harold’s journal, trying to piece some clues. Luckily, Leo is outside breaking the tension with his guitar and some bluegrass/folk/Top 40:
…”I remember that one. It was big just before the flu. He must have picked up the single downtown.”
“I guess so.”
“What was that guy’s name? The guy that did it?”
“I can’t remember,” Larry said. “Pop music came and went so fast.”
(Is it bad of me that all I can think of for this scene is Charlie from Lost? Oh, Charlie, you were the best. I miss that show, I need to do a personal rewatch of it. /rambling.)
Stu finishes reading the journal and comes to the conclusion that even though Harold and Nadine are planning something, there’s really nothing that they can do until Harold actually does something that warrants suspicion. In the meantime, Stu’s going to keep an eye on the two to hopefully prevent anything from happening. Which would be great, except that Harold and Nadine have already hightailed it out of Boulder. The next night is also the most recent meeting of the Ad Hoc committee. Stu figures that they’ll be able to discuss the recent progress with the power plant and the other various committees.
This is probably one of the best sequences in the whole book. One of the big complaints I have with a lot of books that I read is that barely anyone does a good set-up anymore. Probably because most of the books that I read are first-person limited POV, but you can still have good set-up in those; it’s not something that should be limited to third omniscient. (But then again, I’ve read the latter with poor set-up, so…yeah.) When I first read this book, I remember being nervous for the characters: Harold and Nadine are overlooking Boulder, ready to see Ralph Bretner’s house go up in flames and while Larry, Stu and Fran have some idea that Harold’s planned something, they don’t know how far in advance he’s done it. And Frannie knows that something’s wrong and that they need to get out of the house, but she doesn’t know what it is actually. What could save Our Heroes from being blown to hell?
How about a literal deus ex machina?
“She’s come back!” Dick had to bellow to make himself heard over the cycles. “Oh, she’s in terrible shape! We need a doctor…Christ, we need a miracle!”
Nearly everyone runs out the door to find out what’s going on with Mother Abagail. Everyone except Nick.
He couldn’t talk, but suddenly he knew. He knew. It came from nowhere, from everywhere.
NICK NOOOO DON’T DO IT. UGH. EVERY TIME.
Speaking firmly but not loudly into the walkie-talkiie, he said: “This is Harold Emery Lauder speaking. I do this of my own free will.”
You know when there’s a really good book or movie or show and you love it, and you experience it a hundred different times, that even though you know all the lines and what’s going to happen, you still want things to turn out differently? But they never do. I’ve read The Stand at least a good four or five times, and just this sequence. Augh. It’s so good and so well-done and I don’t want it to turn out that way. I want everyone to get out, to make it to the final showdown, and yet…
EVERYTHING IS DEATH AND IT HURTS.
Birds. She could hear birds.
But this wasn’t Ogunquit; it was
She puzzled over it in the red darkness for a long time, and suddenly she remembered the explosion.
Nick didn’t make it out alive. Nor did Sue Stern, which makes me feel more the worse for Dayna (and now I need happyfic about those two, it’s the only way I can console myself.) Neither did Chad Norris, who was giving a report on the Burial Committee. (I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY, HAROLD. One of the few people who tried being nice to you AND THIS IS WHAT YOU DID.) Four of the other people who came in to tell everyone of Mother Abagail’s return also died in the blast. And as Stu points out, if Mother Abagail hadn’t shown up when she did…well…
…”She died, didn’t she? In the night. She came back to die.”
“She’s not dead yet. She ought to be, and George Richardson says she’ll have to go soon, but she’s not dead yet…And I’m afraid. She saved our lives by coming back, but I’m afraid of her, and I’m afraid of why she came back.”
The entire town of Boulder knows that they have to face certain truths about their existence, and Harold’s bomb is the wake-up call they needed. (I actually just reread On Writing; there’s a lengthy section on this part of The Stand and the whole point of blowing up half the characters.) The only thing that anyone really can do at this point is gather everyone together and hold another meeting.
The majority of Boulder’s population (aka People We Don’t Care About, because they’re not the Heroes) are understandably pissed and ready for a knee-jerk reaction. Including a lynch mob for Harold and Nadine.
“…We’re…we’re supposed to be the good guys here. I guess we know where the bad guys are. And being the good guys means we have to be civilized about this.”
After an update from George Richardson on the physical state of Mother Abagail, Glen takes the floor to discuss the mammoth in the room: Randall Flagg. Presenting what evidence they have, Glen makes the point that everyone in Boulder had some inkling that Flagg was Out There in the West, and was calling to them just as Mother Abagail had. (Random tidbit, but I just noticed that one of Flagg’s aliases they collected was a Richard Freemantle. I have no idea if that intentional or not, but it’s something to think on.) The collective whole of Boulder takes the opportunity to calm down and talk things out; they’re not going to come to a conclusive decision, but all that pent-up anger and rage gets out.
Two nights after the power comes on for good, Glen shows up at Stu’s house with some better but still not good news.
“God help me, I almost wish she were. She’s awake. She wants us.”
Mother Abagail gathers the remaining members of the Ad Hoc committee to dispense what she’s discovered in the desert.
“…I don’t know if it’s God’s will for you to defeat him. I don’t know if it’s God’s will for you to ever see Boulder again. Those things are not for me to see. But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand.”
Glen, Larry, Ralph and Stu are to go to Las Vegas, as soon as possible. (With Kojak.) Frannie makes Stu swear on Nick’s blood that he will come back to her. But because that’s not even possible to know, he swears he’ll do his best.
They went on, leaving Boulder behind them…
None of them slept well that first night. Already they felt far from home, and under the shadow of death.
In comparison to the first part, Book 2 is…well, let’s be honest. It’s a slow burn. There’s a lot of set-up and deliberating, and there are points were the plot dragged on about politics. But it’s still interesting, and those last few chapters…at least you know that the plot’s not stalling anymore.