Synopsis: Ray Garraty--along with 99 other teen boys--has entered the Long Walk, a grueling march at four miles per hour that continues until only one person is standing. The losers receive bullets to the head. As the march progresses, the numbers dwindle, the challenges of continued marching increase, and the senselessness wears on the participants' state of mind. King (writing as his alter ego, Richard Bachman) delivers another psychologically dark tale in this futuristic novel with commentary on society, teenage life, and cultural entertainment that is still poignant decades after its original publication.
Despite being published a few years into Stephen King's established career, The Long Walk was written when King first started college back in 1966, eight years before Carrie hit shelves. It is among King's earliest work, along with previously published Rage. Unlike that earlier Bachman novel, The Long Walk is a completely enthralling and mature work that fits in quite well with King's then-recent releases The Shining and The Stand, reading like the work of a master novelist at the height of his career instead of a young man just starting
This book gets the ball rolling quicker than almost any other King -- or Bachman -- novel. Within two chapters the boys are on the road, walking toward their destiny and making friends along the way. Everything is seen through the eyes of Ray Garraty, one of the boys in the Walk. He is hesitant to make friends because he knows that will only make things harder later on, but he does anyway. The friendships and discussions between these one hundred boys -- complete strangers before the Walk -- is one of the things that make this novel absolutely sing. As the story unfolds and characters such as McVries and Baker and Garraty himself begin to give bits and pieces of their life stories and why they are participating in the Walk in the first place (most of them simply don't know, when it comes down to it -- they simply want to win, they guess), it's interesting to see the way King handles topics such as love gone wrong, thievery, sex, success, failure, et cetera, in comparison to how he would handle it today. Again, King wrote this story as a young college student (although I am sure it saw heavy revision before eventual release as a Bachman paperback) and, naturally, his world-view -- and, by association his characters' worldview -- is a little more naive than what one sees in SK's later works. That isn't bad -- quite the opposite, in fact! -- it's just interesting to see how King's mind worked back then.
Perhaps more than other Stephen King novel that I can think of, this story has a certain rhythm that drives the plot forward and holds the reader ensnared until the very last page. The continual thuds of boys walking on pavement, the sound of rain hitting black top, the murmurs and shouts as night comes once again... after a while, due to the boys' constant speed of four MPH, the reader feels like he or she is along for the walk and taking part in every mile. It becomes exhausting and, eventually, horrifying -- and I would be willing to bet that was King's intention all along.
None that I noticed, but then again this was a Bachman story and I guess King didn't want any associations to books published under his own name being made.
“Garraty wondered how it would be, to lie in the biggest, dustiest library silence of all, dreaming endless, thoughtless dreams behind your gummed-down eyelids, dressed forever in your Sunday suit. No worries about money, success, fear, joy, pain, sorrow, sex, or love. Absolute zero. No father, mother, girlfriend, lover. The dead are orphans. No company but the silence like a moth's wing. An end to the agony of movement, to the long nightmare of going down the road. The body in peace, stillness, and order. The perfect darkness of death.
How would that be? Just how would that be?”
While it's not necessarily my favorite, the last page or so is among King's bleakest, most frightening, and most frustrating. It always sticks out in my mind when I think about this novel.
We're spinning the wheel and making predictions -- it's The Dead Zone!