What I really like about The Stand compared Left Behind is that in this book, we actually get to know the characters who die. Part of this is just Stephen King’s writing style, but I think it’s better this way because we really get to know the people who disappear. It makes us care about them more. Makes us see them as actual people rather than just offscreen characters who never get mentioned.
In this chapter, we are introduced to a variety of people who we will never see again. Whether or not we like them, we do end up feeling a bit sorry for them.
Like Norm Bruett. He wakes up the next morning to find his kids fighting, and yells at them to shut up.
As always, when he saw his kids, Norm felt dragged two ways at once. His heart ached to see them wearing hand-me-downs and Salvation Army giveouts like the ones you saw the nigger children in east Arnette wearing; and at the same time a horrible, shaking anger would sweep through him, making him want to stride out there and beat the living shit out of them….
Norm looked at the pile of clothes he had worn yesterday. They were lying at the foot of the sagging double bed where he had dropped them.
That Slutty bitch, the thought. She didn’t even hang up my duds.
Norm Bruette is thoroughly unlikable. And yet, when you realize that he’s sick, that he’s going to die, you can’t help but feel horrified.
Norm looks around for his wife, and thinks about asking the kids where she’s gone, but decides not to. He’s got a headache and some nausea. We are told that it feels like a hangover and I am almost sympathetic.
Norm thinks back on yesterday’s accident, and we are told that by the time Hap got back to town, the police had come and gone, as well as the “undertaker’s hack,” the wrecker, and the county coroner.
I’m not 100% sure how the disease spreads. Can the virus live outside the body for long enough periods of time to infect someone else? That would seem to be the case here, especially as the author is taking the time to show just how many people have come to the gas station since.
All that the men are told is that the disease Campion had is not cholera, and that they can read about the autopsy in the paper.
Hap dresses and stumbles into the kitchen, where the radio is playing “Baby can you dig your man.” Norm finds a note his wife left him, saying that she’s gone to babysit the neighbor kids. She’s getting paid a whole dollar to do this. Even in 1980 when this was first written, that wasn’t that much. According to Norm, that won’t even buy a gallon of gas.
Norm opens the fridge, looks at the sausages, and decides he’s not hungry. His headache and nausea are worse.
I know that it is not the main point of the book, but I still would have found it interesting if King had focused on the disease more. But, like Left Behind wasn’t about the rapture, The Stand really isn’t about the Superflu.
Coming down with a cold, he thought. Isn’t that nice on top of everything else?
But it never occurred to him to think of the phlegm that had been running out of that fellow Campion’s pump the night before.
In other words, Norm is already dead, and he doesn’t know it.
There’s a section break, and we cut away to Poor Hap. Last week, we discussed how Hap rode with Campion to the hospital. So he was definitely infected. Is this virus spread through coughing/sneezing? Because that seems to be the case here.
Hap is back in his gas station/car garage, fixing someone’s car. We are told that Vic is also there, drinking a doctor pepper. Along comes Joe Bob, Haps’ cousin, who works with the state patrol. As Hap comes out to greet Joe, he sneezes.
Joe Bob asks if he can talk to Hap and Vic in private, and they go into Hap’s office. Joe Bob asks the two to keep their mouth shut about him being there, and they quickly agree.
Joe Bob tells Vic and Hap that the Health Department is very interested in what happened with Campion.
Vic said, “Oh Jesus, it was cholera. I knowed it was.”
Except that it looked nothing like cholera.
Hap asks Joe Bob to tell him more.
“I don’t know nothing,” Joe bob said…. “Finnegan there, the coroner…well, he got Dr. James to look at this Campion, and the 2 of them called in another doctor that I don’t know. Then they got on the phone to Houston. And around 3 this morning they come into that little airport outside of Braintree. Pathologists, 3 of them….then they got on the phone to the Plague Center in Atlanta, and those guys are going to be here this afternoon. But they said that in the meantime that the State Health Department was to send some fellas out there and see all the guys that were in the station last night, and the guys that drove the rescue unit to Braintree. I dunno, but it sounds to me like they want you quarantined.”
Vic and Hap are horrified at this news. Vic begins to wonder if Campion had something more serious than cholera. Why send the CDC in after some men with cholera? I completely agree with Vic. the fact that the CDC is coming means some serious shit is going down. And Cholera is actually fairly easy to treat in places where sanitation is good, so frankly, I can’t even see the state Health Department being interested in that.
Hap says he appreciates Joe Bob warning him. I don’t see why Joe Bob Bothered? I mean, the men were going to end up quarantined anyway, and now Joe Bob is also gonna die.
Now, Joe Bob probably would’ve died anyway, but it’s sad to think that he’s speeding up the process by warning them. But maybe it’s better this way. Maybe it’s better to die quickly, before you know the magnitude of the problem, than to sit there for months and know it’s coming.
Joe Bob says the doctors looked scared, scareder than he’s ever seen doctors look before in his life. Hap gets a kleenex and blows his nose.
Hap asks what they’ve learned about Campion, to which Joe Bob replies, “not much.”
“His driver’s license says he was from San Diego, but a lot of the stuff in his wallet was 2 or 3 years out of date. His Driver’s license was expired. He had a Bank Card issued in ’86, and that was expired, too. He had an army card so we’re checking with them. The captain has a hunch that Campion hadn’t lived in San Diego for maybe 4 years.”
All of this was extremely interesting to me as I read the edited edition. In the edited edition, we didn’t have the prologue showing us where Campion had worked and what had happened to him. This was the first we found out anything about him, and it lent an air of mystery: who was this guy, how did he get sick? Why is everything in his wallet expired?
Even with the prologue, I still have these questions. How exactly did the disease spread from the workers to Campion? Why is everything in his wallet expired? Why does his army card say he was only in the army until 1997 when he has been shown to be currently in the army? I know that 4 years did not pass since the events in the prologue, so, what gives?
I think I changed my mind. I think the novel was stronger without the prologue. King was right to give it the ax.
Vic asks if Campion was AWOL, and Joe Bob says he doesn’t know.
“His army card said he was in until 1997, and he was in civvies, and he was with his fambly, and he was a fuck of a long way from California, and listen to my mouth run.”
Hap tells Joe Bob he’ll tell the other guys who were there about this, and Joe Bob reiterates that he doesn’t want his name mentioned. Hap figures that his friends don’t need to know who tipped him off, and Vic agrees to keep his mouth shut as well.
Hap gives Joe Bob a receipt for the gas, saying that the State is paying for it. As Hap fills it out, he sneezes.
Wait, seriously? Joe Bob wants to keep his visit here quiet, yet he’s still turning in this gas receipt to his supervisor for compensation? Does he think that nobody is going to go, “Jee Joe Bob, I notice Hap is your cousin. Did you by any chance tell him we were coming?”
“You want to watch that,” Joe Bob said. “Nothin any worse than a summer cold.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Alas, poor Joe Bob, we hardly knew you.
Suddenly, from behind, them, Vic said: “Maybe it ain’t a cold.”
Vic informs Hap and Joe Bob that he, too, has been coughing and sneezing all morning. He also had a headache, which Tylenol has helped a little bit. In any case, Vic wonders if they could possibly have what Campion had. Hap opens his mouth to argue, but starts sneezing. Joe Bob tells him it might be a good idea to close the station for a day or two, just in case.
At this point, Joe has to realize that he, too, stands a good chance of catching what Campion had. For him to go out into the world and expose the rest of the people was just irresponsible, though the disease probably would have spread anyway.
There’s a section break, and we cut to Lila Bruett babysitting Sally Hodge’s kids. Lila, Norm’s wife, also woke up sick this morning, and now is passing on the deadly virus to the poor Hodge children. Not that she knows it, but it’s still horrifying.
Lila looks around the room at all the paintings. Sally Hodge’s hobby is doing paint by number pictures of Jesus.
Lila especially liked the big one of the Last Supper mounted in back of the TV; it had come with 60 different oil colors, Sally had told her, and it took almost 3 months to finish. It was a real work of art.
We never actually get to meet Sally, but I feel like I know her. Contrast this with Rayford’s wife in Left Behind. The only things we ever really learn about her are that she collected frilly nick nacks and was an evangelical Christian who enjoyed proselytizing. But Sally Hodges is no cardboard cutout, and I like that.
Baby Cheryl started to cry, a whooping, ugly yell broken by bursts of coughing. Lila hurried to the bedroom. Eva, the 4 year old, was still fast asleep, but Cheryl was lying on her back in her crib, and her face was going an alarming purple color. Her cries began to sound strangled.
Those poor children are already dead.
Lila…picked Cheryl up by the heels and swatted her firmly on the back. She had no idea if Dr. Spock recommended this sort of treatment or not, because she had never read him.
I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. But I did take a CPR class once, and I do recall us having to do something similar on baby dolls that were supposed to be choking. Except we definitely did not pick these babies up by the heels. But of course, that was in 2007. The prevailing wisdom was probably different when this book was originally written, and it’s clear Lila’s not up to date on current recommendations. She’s doing the best she can with what she knows, and it’s not ideal, but I don’t think it’s outright abusive, either.
In any case, Baby Cheryl’s airway is clear afterward, which is the important thing. Lila thinks about how she’s never seen a baby cough up so much snot before, then goes back to watching TV.
She lit another cigarette, sneezed over the first puff, and then began to cough herself.
One of the reasons I think it is easier for King to show us the dying people’s backstories is because, unlike the rapture, the plague doesn’t kill everyone right away. Left Behind starts just after the rapture as hit, and as such, we don’t get to really meet the disappeared. But in this book, it varies widely as to how long it takes the virus to kill its victim, so it’s a bit easier for King to show us what these people were like than it was for Jenkins.
And so I can cut Jenkins a little bit of slack here–but not much.