Back in Arnette, Norm Bruett, one of the many doomed souls we met back in the first chapter, is another great King archetype—casual abusive bigot who only exists to rack up the body count. But what works with Norm starting off this chapter is that it gives us what a normal person would think is happening. Here’s a guy who’s pissed off at everyone in the world. Hates his wife, hates his kids, hates that the country music station is playing rock and roll. Times are hard, and on top of that, he’s getting a summer cold after facing near death the night before.
We cut to Hap’s garage where Hap and Vic Plafrey are respectively working and killing time, only to have the state troopers show up. And look at this, the trooper is Hap’s cousin, Joe Bob. The reason that I buy these three as characters is that King does such a fantastic job of breathing life into their dialogue and actions. A large chunk of Joe Bob’s dialogue is exposition on what happened with Campion before he crashed into the pumps and what happened at the hospital, but the way he talks puts so much more weight into the explanation.
“It’s appreciated, Joe Bob,” Hep said slowly. “What did James and this other doctor say?”
“Not much. But they looked scared. I never seen doctors look scared like that. I didn’t much care for it.”
I love King’s dialogue. Very rarely does he manage to screw it up, but the majority of the time, he’s so spot on with the characters’ voices and mannerisms.
Joe Bob starts to leave, and points out that Hap’s probably coming down with a cold as well. Man, they’re not even going to put two and two together, are they—
“I work up this morning sneezing and hackin away like sixty,” Vic said…”Maybe we’re coming down with it. What that Campion had. What he died of.”
CLEARLY, IT’S JUST A COLD. Don’t listen to old Vic, he’s just a crazy old coot—
Joe Bob looked at them both gravely for a moment and then said, “You know, it might not be such a bad idea to close the station, Hap. Just for today.”
…huh. Actually listening to the crazy old guy. Too bad that you’re all going to die anyway, you should all deserve to live.
While that might be the perfect place to end the chapter, there’s still another page where we get to meet Norm Bruett’s wife Lila as she’s babysitting. There’s an undercurrent of how hard times have gotten in the town of Arnette, and this whole scene just speaks volumes. She’s watching soap operas on a color television, with paint-by-numbers pictures on the walls, and she’ll be getting a whole dollar out of this. The bigger reason why this scene is here is to show how the superflu’s spreading without everyone realizing it, but I love the touch of the current economic troubles put in here.
This is one of the many short chapters that really wigs me out. Here, it’s because that everything that happens is completely coincidental, that the whole release of the virus was accidental. And what makes that terrifying is that I can see this happening in real life.
Of course, I’m also sure that real life disease control centers are a lot more tightly controlled. Until you realize that part of King’s inspiration was a similar incident in Utah in the mid-70s. Yeah. (Much like the whole bath salts zombie hysteria a few weeks ago.)
And the whole set-up of this chapter is one big series of what-ifs. What if there were more guards, what if the box had been made right, what if things were scheduled to go off on time. And this is why I find this more believable than any other way to set off the apocalypse; it’s a series of human fuck-ups. That’s what we do.
What’s really chilling is the description of the Project Blue site.
There was something spooky about that centrifuge whirling gaily around and around and around while Dr. Ezwick lay dead on the floor nearby, sprawled out like a scarecrow that had tipped over in a high wind.
Larry Underwood’s introductory chapter is one of my few sticking points about this edition being an updated edition of The Stand. The big no-no in book writing is not to shove too many current pop culture references, otherwise you’re dating your book. Stephen King is one of the few authors who can actually pull this off most of the time. I know this was originally written in the late Seventies, and supposed to be set in 1985. But the off-hand cultural references circa 1989 just stick out in my mind as being wrong.
I bring this up in Larry’s chapter, because Larry’s supposed to be a Springsteen-soundalike, right down to the Sixties R&B influence, from the very small refrain that’s been recurring so far. HEY HE’S THE GUY WHO SINGS THE SONG IN CHAPTER THREE. And to be fair, I don’t see this as a chart-topper in 1990:
“I know I didn’t say I was comin down
I know you didn’t know I was here in town,
But bay-yay-yaby you can tell if anyone can,
Baby, can you dig your man?”
We get the whole of Larry’s five-week career as a massive flashback—cuts a single, makes it big and starts blowing the money on drugs. It’s a lot like Fran’s intro, where everything just stops in the middle of the OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT. And to a lot of people, yeah, I can see why it’s hard to get through. There’s so much to be set up with all of these characters, and we’re going to be spending the next thousand pages with them. But it shows that in the midst of shit going down, until that gets out to the public, life is going to go on. And here we have Larry trying to get his head right. He knows that he’s going home for a handout, and that he has to deal with the fact that he fucked up. OR SO HE THINKS.