Did the story just jump 7 years forward? That was disorienting.
Comparisons with The Stand are inevitable, of course, and I was thinking how differently people, in general, were behaving in the aftermath of the apocalypse, and that McCammon must have a much darker view of humanity's essential nature than King does. Then it occurred to me that there is an enormous difference that could account for it - resources. In The Stand, a virus wipes out most of the people, but leaves nature and natural resources intact, along with most of the man-made resources, so there are few humans, but an abundance of food, shelter, and fuel. McCammon's is a nuclear apocalypse, so there seem to be more people, but scarce life-sustaining resources in a hostile natural environment.
So, yeah, of course people are going to behave differently.
I can see why there are so many comparisons of this book to The Stand. It does seem to begin with a similar construction - lots of random characters of both white hat and black hat variety, religious fervor, and a supernatural creature who delights in death and destruction. That scene, btw, of him (it?) in the theater was super creepy.
This is pretty dated, but still plenty of fun so far.