[Book Review] The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
And we’re walking and walking… and walking… and walking…
In what can only be called a dystopian society, Stephen King as Richard Bachman has penned one of his most memorable works.
One hundred young men — all under 20, at least — apply and are chosen for a walking competition. The rules are simple: Walk. You must walk above a certain pace. When you slow down, stop or go out of bounds, you get a warning. Three warnings, and you get your ticket out of the competition.
Last person walking is the winner.
The winner is supposed to get anything they want — money for the rest of their lives, their families taken care of. The losers get nothing.
It’s not until you actually see one of the Walkers receive a ticket that you realize this is a life or death situation — the ticket is being shot to death where you stand by soldiers who follow along in vehicles, ensuring the rules are kept.
Each of the Walkers knows the risks they’re taking, albeit probably a bit more naively than they themselves think they do. The walk is lined with spectators through the small towns in Maine, lined up to cheer on their favorite, to watch, but I think mostly, a large number of the crowd want to see someone get their ticket, that bloody and gory spectacle.
Ray Garraty is our eyes and ears (and thoughts and memories) through the novel. At the beginning of the walk, groups form, friendships begin to develop, and we meet a number of the Walkers through him. Some are friends, some become foes, and some are in different. With one hundred people in the Walk, it’s difficult to keep track of everyone and people come and people go.
This is one of those novels where Stephen shows the strength of his writing — the fact that he gets into his character’s heads and stays there throughout the entire novel. This is Stephen balls-to-the-wall with his characters, where we ARE Ray Garraty throughout the book, where it feels that we, too, are on the Walk with him, watching him watch his friends die, to encourage those who he can, and ultimately realizing that in order to win, everyone else has to die.
The ease of Stephen’s prose doesn’t make this an easy book to read either. We learn about each person, we care about each person in Garraty’s circle, and we care about those outside the circle as well as Garraty expands his knowledge of others.
The first time I read this book, I was young, 13, maybe. I was enthralled with each person, fascinated as each person received their tickets, cheered on and perhaps slightly confused at the end.
The second time, I really didn’t want to read the book again. I knew how it would turn out and I knew what was going to happen. I think my mind simply didn’t want to get involved with the characters again, knowing which ones were going to die and how. But I read it again — this time, in one reading (well, with bathroom breaks and food breaks and stuff).
Make no mistake: this is not a happy book, by any means. I have parts that I favored above the others, but to tell you about them will ruin the book for you.
All I can say is that this time I loved them all and the end left me heartbroken.
I still say that this is Stephen King’s strongest work in characterization of all of his books, but it’s not one that I want to read again anytime soon. If you haven’t read it, pick it up and do so — if you’re a writer, you’ll learn a lot about writing strong characters, even in the middle of what seems like a boring event. If you’re a reader, it’s a book that will tug at your heartstrings and you’ll never forget it.