I have been engaged in a little high-low reading in the past several months, alternating one highbrow work (e.g., Outer Dark) with one less exalted work (e.g. Lonesome Dove). My most recent pairing was the short stories of Raymond Carver, which I had not read, and Stephen King’s The Stand, which I had read as a youngster and wanted to revisit to see whether it retained any of the fascination it had on first encounter. There is a great deal going on in these works, though a great deal less going on in Mr. Carver’s stories than in Mr. King’s. In Mr. Carver’s, people in various stages of marital disintegration get drunk and behave badly. In Mr. King’s novel, well . . . there’s a secret underground government lab incubating a superplague, and a guy who’s just hit it big as a pop star, who goes home to visit his mother in the Bronx, and a General Ripper–type plotting against the Russkies, and ...