Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King

To be quite frank, I do not know where to begin with The Long Walk by Stephen King. I have read it several times and just recently reread it to write about it here. Reading it, thoughts swirl in my mind. However, when it comes down to talking about it, it is just plain hard to explain why it is so good. It is a mind screw -- a visceral, touching, horrifying and praiseworthy piece of writing. That string of adjectives does not do it justice. You will just have to bear with me while I try to find the right words and fail. I will start by saying that it was Stephen King's first novel, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It makes my first novel look like a piece of chewed gum on the landing at South Station.

In short, The Long Walk is the story of a twisted sort of competition set in an alternate present. King does not go into too much detail about how or why the United States is this nation fraught with abuse of power, but we do know that is what it is. We also know that The Long Walk is a product of this complacency toward violence. It pits 18-year-old men against each other in a walk to the death. One hundred men set out on foot. One crosses the finish line. Along the way, people cheer on this massacre of young men. It is incomprehensible but says a lot about reality television long before reality television became the bane of society that it is today.

You will have to read The Long Walk for yourself to really understand how truly messed up it is. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is as realistic as it can get. If you do not think competitions to the death are realistic, you need to study history a little more. Despite the fact that reading it for oneself is ideal, there are a few points I can pick that highlight how gruesome of a creation The Long Walk (the book and the novel) is. The first is insomnia. These men walk until they cannot walk anymore. When they stop walking, they are shot and killed. Having suffered insomnia, I can say that three days without sleep under that kind of pressure can make you insane. King knew it too. Reading the novel, I could imagine exactly how that aspect would feel. It was terribly unnerving to think about it.

Another point about The Long Walk that really stood out to me was these young men's willingness to participate. Stephen King never ceases to amaze me with his insight into humanity. He hit the blind faith in living forever of every youth right on the head. To teenagers, death will not come until far in the future or at their own hands. That is the mind of a teenager. Adults could easily exploit this. In fact, adults do exploit this in reality television today. They do not exploit the death aspect, but certainly the "nothing can hurt me aspect." There are likely hundreds of individuals who are mortified at their behavior for our entertainment during their teens. I digress. The simple point is that Stephen King makes something like The Long Walk realistic. He makes suspension of disbelief effortless by using simple human truths to weave a fictional tale.

In conclusion, read it. Give it to teen boys. Remember, there is some language, but this is the kind of book teenage boys love.

Shelly Barclay

1 comment:

  1. You are neglecting the most glaring metaphor in the book: the walk is war. Teenagers enlist in the armed services for a number of reasons. Just like in the book, some enlist for the money or the perceived glory. Some may truly have a death wish. Others may simply be bored, like Abraham. Regardless of the reason, teenagers who go to war rarely comprehend the concept of finality, let along their own mortality. I concur with your comments about adults exploiting this sense of fearlessness - not in the sense of reality TV, though (that's so trivial!), but in the sense that adults routinely send off young men and woman to die in wars.