Mel is reading The DaVinci Code. Poor thing just couldn’t take the relentless societal pressure. Her opinions are her own, of course (and usually good ones) but she did say something that triggered that spark in my brain.
…I’m not convinced it is a modern day classic, not any more than a Stephen King or Tom Clancy
Common wisdom seems to hold Entertainment Fiction in a hermetically-sealed, seperate bag from Literate Fiction, with the twain not only never meeting but (judging from many pieces of Literate Fiction I’ve read) not even cross-pollinating. If you read it in the airport or at the beach it isn’t a Truly Good Book. Anyone who knows me for more than five minutes is usually treated to a tirade about how this is so very wrong and very elitist and Anna Karenina sucks. (That story is told much more efficiently, but no less annoyingly, in that stupid Doobie Brothers song.)
Leaving aside Female Suicide By Penis Substitutes and returning to actual Great Literature for the moment, allow me to humbly submit The Stand by Stephen King. Forget all you know about Molly Ringwald and the guy who played Max Headroom . Let the miniseries, with its hamhanded use of Blue Oyster Cult recede from your mind.
This book is a masterpiece descended directly from the great Epic poems of Homer and grandfathered by A Canticle For Leibowitz. We are introduced to dozens of fully-realized characters who react to extraordinary circumstances in ordinary ways. This has always been the hallmark of Great Literature, from Aeschylus to Zora. Grace notes from The Grapes Of Wrath can be seen as those characters who survive the initial apocalypse press toward their climactic fates. In fact, this description for Grapes can be equally applied to the entirety of The Stand.
…depicts the lives of ordinary people striving to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation
I would argue that by moving the Joadian struggle to a more stark and abandoned post-apocalyptic world, King creates a realm where humanity is truly challenged by eternity. The dust and poverty of Grapes transmutes into the ash and abandonment of The Stand, leaving the characters to react to God on a grander scale. God, a remote and useless presence in so much of what passes for Great Literature in the latter half of the twentieth century, is a fully-realized presence in The Stand. More importantly for the human audience is the presence of true faith and action. Not since Pilgrim’s Progress has there been as exacting a picture of the mystical journey undtertaken by the ordinary faithful.
And, you know, The Stand is just fun to read. I realize that many times that is a cardinal sin in the annals of Literary Thinking. We’ve come to view our Great Books as the brussells sprouts reading we must do before we can escape into the pudding world of the books everyone is actually buying and enjoying. I love that King has done what Joyce could not. He created a masterpiece for the masses. Kind of like those guys Shakespeare and Dickens.