The Long Walk by Stephen King

Whew.

My quest to read every Stephen King book continues and this one was a doozy.  Originally published as a Bachman book, the intro is an essay from King about becoming Bachman.  Kind of fascinating, from a writing point of view and a reading point of view.  In the essay, King says that Bachman has a darker view of the world, something that we would see in the ending of The Long Walk and so I went into it with that and the glowing review from my husband.

What I kept hearing about The Long Walk was that it was a dystopian world where a dangerous game is played.  And, honestly, I had some problems with this.  The world was not very well formed.  There were hints about what the world was like.  Characters talked about death squads and that one could disappear if they spoke out against the Long Walk.  There was a brief mention of banned books.  Really, though, it didn’t feel like the world played much of a roll in this one.  What it really felt like was a commentary on the darkness in people.

Would you watch a game where the losers die?  I wouldn’t.  I couldn’t.  But I have a feeling that a lot of people could and would.

The Long Walk is an annual event in which 100 teenage boys walk for days without stopping.  They much maintain a pace of at least 4 miles per hour.  Each time that they fall below this pace, they are warned.  After three warnings they “get their ticket.”  Basically, a military man shoots them.  They walk until they all die except one and the winner gets whatever he wants for the rest of his life, if he survives.  There is a lot of talk about the winners dying after the walk.

I never thought that I would find this book interesting.  I mean, the whole story is about a bunch of boys walking.  For miles.  For days.  Through states.  Over rivers.  Up hills.  There still manages to be a lot of action.  Plus, it ends up being something of a very character driven book.  As Garraty, our MC, walks, he talks to other contestants.  He learns about their families and friends, about how they ended up on the walk, and they, in turn, learn about him.

The terror isn’t even necessarily in the deaths, though some of those are pretty damn gruesome.  It’s in how the mind turns.  The characters are given this task and they know that all of them but one will die and in spite of themselves they begin to make friends only to watch them die.  Eventually, they begin to lose their minds, become animals.

This was a rough one for me.  I liked it.  It was a good read.  It was just terrifying toward the end.  Yesterday I read a paragraph that completely summed up my biggest fears.  When I finished reading the last 15 pages in bed last night, I felt like a century had passed and it took me a long time to fall asleep.

A kind of physical and psychological horror that slowly takes root.  Excellent read.

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