The lines are drawn, and we finally meet Randall Flagg’s better half.
My first real exposure to Stephen King was The Green Mile—I had seen the movie, asked my mom for the book, and generally enjoyed it. I still have a soft spot for the book, but then there’s the elephant in the room. (To be fair, King himself has responded to this criticism, and generally has gotten a bit better.)
So, it’s hard to discuss Mother Abagail without this trope rearing its head. (Note: Not only will TVTropes suck out hours of your time, but it will also make you criticize medium that you never realized the problems within it.) But what I like about Mother Abagail is that we do see events from her perspective, and see that she is actually a flawed character.
The first half of Chapter 45 is a grand backstory dance of Mother Abagail’s 112 years on Earth. I do need to get up on the writerly soap box and say from a writer’s perspective, the info-dumping that King does facilitates from being really good to
Here, it’s not as bad as it could be—we’ve already seen pages and pages of exposition for characters who only appear for a few pages. I like that yes, we could reference specific years in Mother Abagail’s life, about all of her kids and husbands, but we only get one year, 1902. And it’s used very well to illustrate that “This is how good it’s been and it’s never going to be this good again.”
And can I also point out something with Mother Abagail in general that I like? I like that she’s a conservative Christian who’s not really vilified. It’s something that I’ve noticed with King’s books; it’s not a big trait, but he does go out of his way to cast Christians or right-leaning people as villains on occasion, most notably in “The Mist.” When I reread Cell recently, I remember rolling my eyes at a very long tangent about gun control that really didn’t serve any purpose aside from “Hey, where can we get guns?” And I like that there’s no real political tangents in this book about “This side’s right/No, we are!” in a post-apocalyptic society. (Which while it’s not overstated in most of the post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, it’s very rare that both sides of the American Political System are presented without resorting to petty comments. Yeah, this last November was fun. *sigh*)
SO ANYWAY. Knowing that she’s got people coming and not a lot of food in her pantry, Mother Abagail makes the long trek to the neighboring farm, which is four miles away. And when she gets there and suitably rests up, kills chickens and then begins to head home. And Mother Abagail is attacked by weasels. By weasels, I mean Randall Flagg looking through a pack of weasels.
The next day, we finally get the first load of survivors to arrive at Mother Abagail’s. And it’s Ralph Bretner’s truck! HI NICK, HI TOM! There’s four more people along with them now, including a little girl. After getting dinner into the group, Mother Abagail sits Nick and Ralph down to talk about
the oncoming storm the dark man and what it means for everyone heading for Mother Abagail’s farm:
“…In my dreams I saw myself going west. At first with just a few people, then a few more, then a few more. West, always west, until I could see the Rocky Mountains. It got so there was a whole caravan of us, two hundred or more. And there would be signs…no, not signs from God but regular road-signs, and every one of them saying things like BOULDER, COLORADO, 609 MILES or THIS WAY TO BOULDER.”
Mother Abagail says that Nick is one of the chosen few that she’s dreamed about for the past two years. Nick’s doubtful about his, as he’s not particularly religious, but he’s not about to argue with Mother Abagail over it.
A large part of my problem with reading this chapter (seeing as it’s taken me a while to sit down and work on this chapter; it’s also partially OH HI LIFE) is that a lot of it’s unnecessary. Once the group shows up at Mother Abagail’s place, I really don’t want to read about hog-killing or little girl Gina being cute. I only read the original cut once or twice, and that was over ten years ago when I first picked up The Stand. Personally, I think it could have halved, or even stopped when Nick talks to Abagail about being ‘chosen.’ There’s nothing bad here, but man, it’s long.
I’ve to the conclusion that I really dislike the New England caravan. I don’t want to say hate, because well, Stu’s not bad, he feels like the only person in the group with an ounce of sense. Everyone else, I want to backhand.
On their way to Stovington, Fran, Harold and Stu convince Glen Bateman to go along with them to verify Stu’s story. They also pick up a couple, Mark and Perion on their way there. To immensely streamline the rest of the chapter, Mark comes down with appendicitis and not one person among the group is a doctor.
The appendicitis thing really feels like an extension of Chapter 38, wherein “shit happens and we can’t really do anything about it.” I don’t know why Perion has to go on a rant about how their educations were useless (look, I have a BA in English and I can tell you that there’s not many uses for it, aside from bursting out into showtunes) instead of trying to figure out what they can do. And I get that she’s upset about the whole situation but…I just don’t like any of them anymore.
(I had a whole rant about Frannie’s assumption that women’s lib is only good for post-industrialized societies and that it’s okay for her to fall into Stu’s big manly arms, too. But to spare you from frothing rage, I’ll only repeat myself—Stephen King can’t really write women most of the time and shut the hell up, Fran.)
There’s a ton of navel-gazing and discussion in this chapter, so I’ll skim over the major points: the group begins heading towards Nebraska and Frannie is aware of Mother Abagail.
To randomly tangent, I recently reread King’s Lisey’s Story (which has good women characters but that’s beside the point), and in the acknowledgements he mentions that he gets accused of having no editors or that they don’t do their jobs very well. Taking a look at The Stand or his last two books, I’m really not surprised by that accusation. (Hilariously, King’s number one piece of writing advice? “Omit needless words.”)
Fran’s also started a diary in the meantime, which is confusing as hell, because the excerpts comes a while after the major events in the story. Example, she’s talking about Mark and Peri here, except that they’re already dead. Linear timeline! It helps!
The New England group comes across a trio of men and their harem. Proving that Frannie’s proclamation of feminism being dead is bullshit, the captured women take their chance of encountering the New England group and gun down their captors. There’s a big blood bath for everyone involved (and Frannie and Harold standing around, being useless), and most of the women make it out alive. Thus, we get eight more people in the caravan; notably, Dayna Jurgens WHO IS AWESOME, MAY I ADD. (I love Dayna, mostly for the thing she does later.)
After their rescue of the harem, Frannie tells Stu that she’s been skipping out on pills and that she’s pregnant. The two admit their feelings for one another…while unbeknownst to them, Harold watches.
“You know, Harold,” Frannie said later that evening, as the party began to break up, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you feeling so good. What is it?”
He gave her a jolly wink. “Every dog has his day, Fran.”
ALERT ALERT ALERT NOT GOOD WARNING WARNING WARNING