Book Review on The Long Walk by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King
The Long Walk was published by Signet Books in 1979. It was written by Stephen King but published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. In King’s essay “The Importance of Being Bachman” he says “Bachman, a fictional charter who became more real to me with each published book which bore his byline, was a rainy-day sort of guy if there ever was one.” The Bachman essay was place at the beginning of my copy of The Long Walk and interested me very much. The full essay can here read here on Lilja’s Library.
The novel is focused on an annual event where 100 boys under the age of 18 walk as far as they can without stopping. The event, called The Long Walk, begins in northern Maine and goes on until only one boy is left walking, several days later. If a walker falls below 4 mph, they are given a warning and after their third warning, they are out of the competition. Sounds like all fun and games, right? Wrong. Because what I left out, what the author leaves out until the moment the first boy gets his third strike, is that there are armed guards lining the road and after the third warning is given, the boys are shot and killed. With guts spilling out of their stomachs and pools of blood drowning their teenage bodies, the boys are killed on the spot in front of thousands of onlookers. Do I have your attention now?
The Long Walk is a very dark, brutal story. Much darker than other King novels I have read. In many ways, it is a psychology study of the boys. “Why did we volunteer to do this?” is a question that periodically rises in the boys’ conversation. Our main character, Ray Garraty, never even expected to win when his name was drawn out of the national pool, yet, ignoring the persistence of his parents and girlfriend he lets the drop-out dates pass by. “We want to die,” was one of the boy’s theory, “we all want to die.” Of the many walkers we are introduced to, only two, Stebbins and Scramm, portrayed any confidence that they could win.
That poses an intriguing question: Does our society rely so much on pride that we are willing to give up our young, blossoming lives just so we don’t have to say that we backed out of a competition?
In a story where the only present characters are 100 teenage boys, you would think they would all mesh together with vague differences but that is not the case. There is a good variety of personalities, with traits that help them stand out from one another. Some are self-righteous while others are humble. There are hick country folk as well as city boys. Some are smart and ambitious young men, others were content high school dropouts. This mix of personalities made that resurfacing questions even more interesting, “Why are we here?”
The story beings when our main character, Ray Garraty, gets dropped off at the Long Walk and ends at the conclusion of the event. There was no filler, no afterword, no flashbacks, no perfectly wrapped up conclusion. In my opinion, it was a perfect timeline for the story. Clean and clear with no thrills.
FIVE STARS!!! The Long Walk is an outstanding character study focusing on human’s most natural instincts; friendship, love, hope, pride, fear and most importantly, the desire to live. The story shook my bones and rattled my soul. It may be a slow moving plot but it will keep your mind racing the entire way through and for some time after.
The ending ***SPOILERS***
I normally hate giving away the ending of books but this one had such great symbolism and emotion that I had to discuss it. So, if you haven’t read The Long Walk but plan to, DO NOT READ FURTHER! At the end of the book, Garraty approaches Stebbins to tell him that he was done, he was going to surrender. Stebbins seems to have gone crazy and surrenders himself. Going into this scene, the reader is not aware exactly how many boys are left but after Stebbins dies, its clear that Garraty is the last boy standing, he has won The Long Walk! But up ahead Garraty sees the dark figure of another boy, unsure who it is, but clear that he is still walking. Like the reader, he is somewhat lost, he does not immediately realize that he has won. Because he never expected to win and was prepared to give up only seconds before, the win shocks him too deep to be put into words.
Garraty was unique in the way that he cared about the boys, more than anyone else he became friends with many of them and the other boys often confided in him in ways that they would not to the others. (Examples: McVries told him the story of his scar; Baker asked him do something for him if he won, “I’m scared to ask anyone else,” he’d said.) Because Garraty felt for the other characters, he will carry them with him forever. He may have won the competition, but the dark, ambiguous figure Garraty sees in front of him on the road indicates the walk will never end for him. Those dead boys—his dead friends—will haunt him forever.
Posted on August 11, 2014, in Book Review and tagged book review, books, characterization, death, desire to live, emotion, fear, friendship, life, plot, pride, psychology, Richard Bachman, spoilers, Stephen King, teen fiction, teenagers, The Long Walk, theme, timeline, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.