[Boulder Free Zone Blog] Today on As the World Ends…

Frannie deals with telling her mother about the new hope for humanity, a new character appears, and Larry gets eaten.

Chapter Nine
Hey, it’s been what four chapters since we’ve had a new character? One that’s actually going to stick around for the majority of the book?

Nick put up the best fight he could, decking one of them and bloodying another’s nose…For one or two hopeful moments he thought there was actually a chance that he might win. The fact that he fought without making any sound at all was unnerving them a little…they certainly hadn’t expected a serious fight from this skinny kid with the knapsack.

NICK! I love Nick Andros. Maybe it’s because I have a thing for woobies who turn out to be pretty badass (like my undying love for Neville Longbottom, but that’s a whole different epic right there) and this starts with him getting beat up, but Nick’s one of my favorite characters. And it’s really not even his fault that he gets beat up, it’s all a misunderstanding from guys who’ve had too many drinks.

The thing with Nick’s character is that King really toes the line with him. He’s deaf and mute, but Nick doesn’t have amazing eyesight or anything else to qualify for a disability superpower. (Unless if it’s he can magically still read lips at night with people beating up on him. The intro to this chapter gets a little confusing; I know it’s omniscient but also Nick’s perspective so why would he know what the guys are saying…?) Anyway. I’d like to say that even though Nick doesn’t get a disability superpower in the book, it’s probably because someone else gets to have one and we’ll get to him presently.

The poor baby’s abandoned on the side of the road and he passes out.

He turned his head to the left….and saw a rough concrete wall. Cracks ran through it. It had been extensively written on…It all gave Nick a sense of place. He was in a jail cell.

I think anyone who’s read enough Stephen King knows about his fascination with prison life. Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption being the two most well-known works (my dad was shocked to find out that Shawshank was a King novella), but he’s done a fair amount in his other books, and this isn’t even the last jail scene we’ll get in The Stand. (A personal recommendation tangent: there’s a GREAT short story in Everything’s Eventual, “The Death of Jack Hamilton” about the Dillinger gang on one of their last jobs.)

But to get on track again, this isn’t the large county prisons, it’s just a normal small-town jail cell.

“When I was a boy we caught ourselves a mountain lion up in the hills and shot it and then drug it twenty mile back to town over the dirt hardpan. What was left of that creature when we got home was the sorriest-lookin sight I ever saw. You the second-sorriest boy.”

Nick thought it had the feel of a prepared speech, carefully honed and treasured, saved for out-of-towners and vags that occupied the barred Saltine boxes from time to time.

I love that thought of Nick’s, btw. Also, the sheriff yelling at Nick for throwing away a piece of paper on the floor, because his wife cleans the cells. It’s a small moment but it works.

The sheriff, John Baker, asks Nick about what happened and who beat him up. Nick gives the descriptions (okay, and there’s the third-person omniscient again, confusing me), and we learn that the kid who beat Nick up is the sheriff’s brother-in-law.

Chapter Ten

Okay, so what I was just saying that I was bored with Frannie because it’s more of the same thing? I think that’s what this chapter is with Larry. We get the idea that he’s not really a nice guy, that he takes advantage of people. Here, we get more evidence of that with his one-night stand with an oral hygienist from the Bronx. Who hits Larry with a spatula between the eyes. He kind of deserves it though.

This chapter is worth it for this line:

He vaguely remembered being gobbled on like a Perdue drumstick.

*snort*

Chapter Eleven

And more Larry being told that he’s not a nice guy. I do like that his mother does chew him out for the right reasons. I don’t think Larry’s a bad guy—given what goes on later—but he does take advantage of people.

I know there’s a lot of character development between here and shit getting real, but I’m really more interested at this point of what’s going to happen once the super-flu hits. We’ve only got one town in Texas that’s quarantined and that web of plague that was spread in Chapter Eight hasn’t taken full effect yet. But then there’s only been a few days for things to spread. King likes his slow build, and it’s good when the payoff’s done well.

So [Larry]…went to the movies at the Lux. And watched an insane, malignant revenant named Freddy Krueger suck a number of teenagers into the quicksand of their own dreams where all but one of them—the heroine—died. Freddy Krueger also appeared to die at the end, but it was hard to tell, and since this movie had a Roman numeral after its name and seemed to be well attended, Larry thought the man with the razors on the tips of his fingers would be back, without knowing that the persistent sound in the row behind him signaled the end to all that: there would be no more sequels, and in a very short time, there would be no movies at all.

In the row behind Larry, a man was coughing.

SHIT IS GETTING REAL.

Chapter Twelve
[Frannie’s] favorite room in the place was her father’s workshop. It was in the shed that connected house and barn. You got there through a small door which was barely five feet high and nearly hidden behind the old kitchen woodstove. The door was good to begin with: small and almost hidden, it was deliciously like the sort of door one encountered in fairy-tales and fantasies…It was an Alice in Wonderland door, and for a while her pretend fame, secret even from her father, was that one day when she opened it, she would not find Peter Goldsmith’s workshop at all. Instead she would find an underground passageway from Wonderland to Hobbiton…A tunnel that smelled not of wet soil and damp and nasty bugs and worms, but one which ended somewhere up ahead in the pantry of Bag End…

While I still think that King can’t write young women, he can write kids and childhood extremely well. This chapter, specifically the descriptions of the two rooms Frannie reflects on (her father’s workshop and her mother’s parlor), are definitely tinged with the childhood nostalgia. Who didn’t have that one special place that you hid out and read or played and made up stories? For me, I had a small corner underneath a coffee table when I was little, and when I was older, that switched to my closet. (I’d be interested in hearing other people’s special places.)

The thing that does work well in this chapter is Frannie’s fear about telling her mother that she’s pregnant. Part of the reason why I do resonate with this particular chapter more than the later ones is that what Frannie’s dealing with is very relatable to just about anyone, especially if you’re reading this as a teenager and afraid of screwing up. (As I was when I first read The Stand.) Granted, I also think that Frannie’s mother is emotionally abusive to her daughter, but the fear and dread are very real and very relatable.

Frannie’s mother doesn’t take well to the news of her daughter’s pregnancy, and well,

‘“Grandparents!” she shrieked. An ugly, confused sort of laughter jarred out of her. “You leave this to me. She told you first and you kept it from me. All right. It’s what I’ve come to expect of you. But I’m going to close the door and the two of us are going to thrash this out.”

She smiled with glittery bitterness at Frannie.

“Just…we ‘girls.’”

The thing about Frannie and her parents that I really don’t like is this idea that each child gets attached to a parent. We’ve seen that Frannie is a daddy’s girl, and we learn that her older brother Fred was her mother’s favorite, and that her mother became very cold and unfeeling after Fred’s death. I am not a fan of this trope, partially because I wasn’t raised that way. I can see why Frannie’s mother has become distant from her other child after the death of her first, and I can see why she’s upset that Frannie is pregnant, but this scene is very uncomfortable. There’s every inclination that Frannie’s mother is going to beat her daughter senseless, and we’re all grateful when her father finally steps in.

I’ve been writing this and thinking it over, but I’m trying to figure out why I don’t mind Larry’s or Nick’s chapters as much as I do Frannie’s. At best, it’s the argument I made in her first chapter—King can’t write young women, or at least get inside of their heads. It’s not that he doesn’t try, but it doesn’t seem to click as well as the others. Or maybe because Frannie’s storyline ends up being a moot point. She doesn’t really get a choice to do anything with the baby, once people start dying, she feels like she has to save it. (That would be a really interesting character arc—what if Frannie started off by giving her baby up and realizing that she may have condemned it to death? That would have been more interesting than the whole back and forth.) I want there to be more of a question of what Frannie is going to do with the baby, and before people conveniently start dying en masse.

2 thoughts on “[Boulder Free Zone Blog] Today on As the World Ends…

  1. I’ve never had a problem with Frannie. Maybe it’s because I am a daddy’s girl, and while my mother was never as cruel as Frannie’s, she did treat me differently than my brother. But I can see your point on how a lot of this stuff is being dragged out just to become irrelevant later.

  2. I do like Frannie, when it gets later in the book and she meets up with Harold. But the whole baby subplot just drags the beginning along, and I think it would have been better if King started with Frannie telling her parents and leaving Jesse out of the book entirely.

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