Having recently discovered The Stephen King Project (better late than never?), I am excited to join in, even if there is only four months of 2012 left.
The Long Walk by Stephen King (formerly released under his pseudonym Richard Bachman) is one of his most intense, horrific, and disturbing(ly wonderful) works. This might not sound like a lead in to a rave review, but it is. The Long Walk, a short story by King standards, is the story of Ray Garraty and how he must survive the greatest challenge of his life. Each year in America, hundreds of teenage boys enter a contest for a chance to compete in the long walk, a walk in which the winner is the one who outlasts the 99 others. The winner receives anything he wants (whatever that may be).
The rules of the contest are simple: the group of 100 chosen boys starts walking one morning in Maine and they walk until they can no longer do so. They have to maintain a pace of at least 4 miles per hour; if they fall below that pace they get a warning. Should they get three warnings, they get their “ticket” and they’re done. But there is no rest or respite, their ticket is only a bullet in the head. This novel takes place in a not-too-alternate America, where the long walk is the most anticipated sporting event of the year (over 2 billion is bet on the outcome). So why would anyone volunteer for this race? That is what King spends a large majority of the novel discussing. Why the boys are there, what do they hope to gain, and what keeps them going when all their physical strength is gone? Each of the characters runs a dark gamut of emotions as they come face to face with how they will die.
The Long Walk is especially interesting when read in context with today’s world of reality television shows and contests. The characters are intriguing, the plot simple, but fascinating. Ultimately, this is an excellently fast-paced, darkly suspenseful book with a grim ending. After all, the winner is the only one who gets cheated out of what he is looking for.