Stephen King's The Long Walk
The Long Walk, Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
Genre: General Fiction
Published 1999, 370 pages
Although this is a King book, it is not a horror book except in the very real horror of youths needlessly dying. Ray Garraty, just 16, joins 99 other boys for The Long Walk – they walk and walk and walk until there’s only one person alive. If anyone stops or delays for longer than 30 seconds they get a warning. They get three warnings, on the fourth they’re shot dead.
One major problem for me is we don’t know a reason for The Long Walk. Is this something the government is running? There was no background on the Walk except that it’s been happening for years. Why did it start? And most of all, what is the purpose? In addition to those questions not being answered, it puzzled me why anyone would volunteer for the Walk. Yes, it's voluntary, not required. The winner, the last person standing at the end gets a Prize of riches, wishes fulfilled, whatever they want. But this is a brutal way to obtain that prize and the odds are stacked against you.
The Walk lasts 5 days (this time) and the description of the gradual changes in the boys is horrifying. They go to the bathroom while walking, or if they have to stop they get warnings. They eat and drink, which is provided to them, while walking. They sleep while walking. Garraty befriends a few of the boys – McVries who is a smart-mouth kid, Stebbins (there’s a big reveal about him near the end) who is quiet and hangs back from everyone else, and Scramm (who has a pregnant wife-they got married at 15!).
Their bodies ached everywhere, they felt pain everywhere – their arches, calves, toes, legs, had cramps and shooting pain. But they couldn’t stop or they would be killed. Slowly, some of the boys go crazy, they scream at the pain in their body, they lose their minds, they try and escape, but are gunned down.
“Daylight came creeping in through a white, muted world of fog. Garraty was walking by himself again. His feet had headaches. Terrible migraines. He could feel them swelling each time he put his weight on them. His buttocks hurt. His spine was icy fire.”
Near the end of the Walk Garraty sees his girlfriend and mother in the crowd and thinks:
“This was the first time he could remember wanting to win. Not even at the start when he had been fresh (back when dinosaurs walked the earth), had he consciously wanted to win.”
By the end of the Walk, the few boys left have no shoes (they’ve fallen apart) and now their bare feet are bloody and swollen. They are barely coherent, hardly recognize each other, and are having hallucinations. By this time you’ve gotten to know these boys and I admit I shed some tears when they were killed (there are some graphic descriptions of some of the deaths). But then there was that uncertain ending -– I personally do not like ambiguous endings and it can often ruin a book or a movie for me. So, while the premise was interesting, albeit tragic and awful, you can see I had some problems with the story.
As a footnote, this was a sentence in King’s book: “One old lady stood frozenly beneath a black umbrella.” Is that even a word? Never seen it before.
Are you a King fan? Which book is your favorite? What are your thoughts on this book? Let's talk books in the comments.