Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Long Walk by Stephen King

The Long Walk

by Stephen King
Written under Stephen King's now-deceased pseudonym Richard Bachman, The Long Walk takes place in an implied but never specified not-too-distant future in which the world has apparently grown tired of gameshow drivel like Wheel of Fortune and "reality" shows like Survivor. So they took it to the next level, taking 100 young men and setting them upon the road for the Long Walk in which the contestants, well, walk. A long, long way. There are no bathroom breaks, no respites, no ultimate time limit. They just walk, and walk, and walk. And if you drop below 4 miles per hour, you're killed. If you wander off the road, you're killed. If you...well, you get the idea. You just walk and walk until you're the last man standing, and then you claim your prize.

What King has done here is essentially craft the first road story that takes place without a vehicle, without wacky adventures. It's a sports story for those who aren't interested in sports--the play-by-play of the Pedestrian Superbowl. What's truly amazing is that, although this is essentially 260+ pages of people walking and talking (and occasionally getting shot), the story is still somehow interesting. It's the characters that do it--it has to be, because there's practically nothing else here, and as they reveal themselves slowly through conversation and action, you find yourself rooting for some and condemning others, although all along you know there's only one way that this depressing little ditty can end.

There are brief glimpses of Freudian psychology at work here, which it seems King was hooked on in the early days, and moments of bleak and nihilistic philosophy. But at the heart of it all, with the hopelessness and the ever-present military enforcers keeping tabs on the Walkers, what this really seems to be is a young, semi-hippie author scrawling out a metaphor for war. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on regarding this subject, there should be something of interest here for you.

I'm a fan of most of King's work, even his often-panned newer stuff. But revisiting his earlier days here, this to me is a denser and more disturbing King before he became so transparent with his True Good vs. True Evil scenarios. This is a King who writes in the gray area, and allows you to decide the borders, writing about real life through sometimes unreal situations.

Recommended for when you're feeling mighty bleak.


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  1. I like this one a lot, too. I think the charm is partly the characters, and partly imagining the vague 'future' world in which this is set and in which people allow such an event to become normalized & popular. Also, it's a greatly cathartic read, when you envision yourself stuck in such a do-or-die scenario... makes you glad for the privilege/right of kicking back and puttin' up your feet... :)

  2. I read this story many moons ago, in my mind I know I am confusing it with The Running Man - going to have to blow the dust off my Bachman Book collection and revisit.

  3. i loved all the Bachman collections when i read them ages ago. they were short and sweet and you're right creepier than some of King's later more revered stuff.

    this story was always one of my favorites and now that i think of it the story reminds me of the book that the movie Battle Royale was based on.


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