Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman (Spoiler Alert!)
If you wish to read a spoiler-free version of this review, check it out on my Goodreads where the spoilers are censored.
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. My oh my. This is by far my favorite King book out of the four that I've read. While this book is not classified as 'horror' and is considered dystopian, I would argue that it could be both. Sure, there are no monsters out to get you, or any crazed clowns, but what is out to get you is even scarier. This book is terrifying because it could be real. Anyone can relate to not being able to walk hundreds of miles. The idea that your own body could collapse on you at any moment, even if you desperately don't want it to, is terrifying. More terrifying than any monster, to me anyway. What was really scary was the number of people who got out because of reasons out of their control. Can't poop fast enough? Okay, you've been shot on the side of the road and die with your pants pooled around your ankles. Got a leg cramp? I guess you will have to walk as quickly as you can with one leg until, ultimately, you can't keep up and die with your face in the pavement. This book plays with your emotion, even more so than any other book I've read. It's not just scary, and it's not just sad, something about it makes you feel utterly powerless. It's not full of people making stupid decisions, it's full of people's minds and bodies deteriorating until they die. There's no one to blame for what happens to each boy because they put themselves up to it. They did nothing wrong, they just could not physically move on. The idea of your life coming down to something you cannot control is petrifying. Knowing all of this made reading about each character become sadder and sadder because you know that there will only be one winner. Everyone else, everyone else who you've been learning about and beginning to care for, will die. And, it is out of your, and their, control. I found myself rooting for certain characters very easily, while not truly knowing all that much about them. Stebbins was someone who particularly interested me. I found the 'plot twist' around his character to be a bit obvious/cliché, but it also made sense. It also allowed his death to make sense. I'm just realizing this now, as I write this, but I guess Stebbins died because he finally lost the will he talked about at the beginning. He was walking to the end because he wanted to scare the Major. He wanted to get revenge. But, once he realized that the Major already knew, that's when he died. His body gave out because his mind did. That's what he had been saying would happen to everybody else all along. I really liked how King chose to write this dystopian almost like a 'slice of life.' He showed us a key aspect of the world, and giving us subtle hints about other details, but he didn't feel the need to explain the entire society. Some might not like this choice, but I found it to be very fitting as a thorough explanation of the background of the society would have little to no impact on the story itself. Something that really has me thinking, and probably will for years, is the ending. I personally think that there are a bunch of ways that it can be interpreted, and I think that's what King was going for. I would like to know which interpretation, if any, he believes in. However, I don't think that is something we would ever get to find out. When I read the ending for this first time, I interpreted the dark figure as Death, and that Garraty ran towards it and died on the road alongside Stebbins. However, upon a re-read of the end, I also think the dark figure could just be a representation of how the Long Walk messed with Garraty's head. Maybe the game broke him, and he would always think there was someone ahead, someone he still had to beat. Maybe he only ran forward a few more yards before dying, or maybe he only ran a few feet before being stopped by the Major and saved. I'd like to hope that Garraty lived, but I personally think that him losing his mind would be the ending that makes the most sense. This way, King would be showing the reader what the Walk is capable of. How it takes someone, even the strongest man out of 100, and crushes him to a pulp. Another thing that I found interesting about this book was that, from what I've heard, King wrote this under Bachman because he wasn't confident in his talent/ability at the time. That baffles me because, from what I've read, this is one of his strongest works. It's not only entertaining and suspenseful, but it's also incredibly well-crafted. While written by 'Bachman,' it maintains King's signature style. Several anecdotes carried throughout the story that the main character ponders on numerous occasions, and an almost dirty feeling carried throughout the whole book. I'm not sure exactly how to describe that feeling, but it's something that comes along with each of King's work. A crude feeling, something of unease and desperation. If you have never read a Stephen King novel, I think this would be a wonderful introduction, and if you have, this would be an incredible continuation.
Song I was reminded of while reading: One Foot