The Long Walk

The Long Walk Book Cover The Long Walk
Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Horror
Signet
July 3, 1979
Paperback
370

On the first day of May, 100 teenage boys meet for a race known as "The Long Walk." If you break the rules, you get three warnings. If you exceed your limit, what happens is absolutely terrifying.

 

The Long Walk, one of the few Stephen King books not adapted into a movie or TV mini-series. Not yet, anyway. This is actually the very first book Stephen King wrote, although Carrie was published first. And this is one of the rarer Stephen King stories where the antagonist is not some supernatural force or entity. It’s just…people. While this is far from his only book to indicate people can be just as monstrous as literal monsters, it is one of the few to exclude the monsters completely. People can really suck and as crazy as the situation in The Long Walk is, it’s not any more far fetched than any given episode of Black Mirror.

So, the book centers around the titular Long Walk. This is a yearly contest where 100 contestants, all teenage boys, keep walking at at least 4 MPH until only one of them is left. And yes, “left” means “still alive”. People who drop under the speed limit get 3 warnings. While it is possible to have warnings reduced, after the third one your reward is a bullet. Provided by soldiers who get to take turns riding in a half-track along the roadside.

Now one thing that’s amazing about The Long Walk is the level of world-building given the limited setting. The contest takes place in Maine, because this is a Stephen King story, and later spills over into Massachusetts. Just from the characters talking amongst themselves, readers learn a ton about this world. There was some kind of disaster that made society fall apart and it seems like the military, or at least parts of it, picked up the pieces. The Long Walk is one of the ways their leader, the mysterious Major, keeps his thumb on society.

And as much as I like to geek out on world-building, that’s not really what The Long Walk is about. It is a deeply psychological story as the physical and mental stress of the contest starts to set in on the walkers. They have not slept for days, they start running out of food, their bodies are being pushed well beyond their limits, and they keep seeing people dying around them. And the named characters are all fairly complex, each having their own reasons and motivations for signing up for The Long Walk in the first place. Yes, this is a volunteer event. No Hunger Games shenanigans here.

There is so much that can be said about this book, both directly about the book’s content and the themes it covers. Far more than I can do justice to in a short little review like this. Bottom line, it’s a good book about the hardship life puts us through and that we put ourselves through. Reading it is emotionally painful but at the same time, the story remains sincere. And while the whole concept is still horrifying, The Long Walk is less straight-up horror than a lot of King’s other books. So, a good choice for people who want a taste of his writing style without sleeping with the lights on.

June 21, 2020

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