On the first day of May, 100 teenage boys meet for a race known as The Long Walk. If you break the rules, you get three warnings. If you exceed your limit, what happens is absolutely terrifying.
©1979 Richard Bachman (P)2010 Penguin
The Path Between the Seas to The Great Bridge ~ Kagan's Peloponnesian War to Gaddis' Cold One ~ Mornings on Horseback to a River of Doubt ~ Tom to Huck ~ Lennie to Charley ~ Cadfael to Cross ~ Rhyme to Reacher ~ Blomkvist and Salander to Wallander and Wallander ~ Moving Cheese or Eating Frogs ~ On the Road and Into Thin Air ~ The End of History to A Short History of Everything to ... well ... everything else.
The Ironman Triathlon comes to our little Island this week which seemed a good enough reason to dust off Richard Bachman/Stephen King's The Long Walk. I've read the book but had not listened to the audio before.
First observation ~ in this case, the audio is better than the book. Kirby Heyborne is first rate; his characterizations are distinct and consistent. As the characters move from fatigue to exhaustion to agony and beyond, you can hear the transformations in his voice. The guy is very good.
So, of course, is the book. If you are new to Stephen King's Richard Bachman period, you should know that the Bachman books are fairly described as King's darker ones. Yes, it is hard to accept that Pet Cemetery, Carrie, The Shining and the rest of King's oeuvre don't represent the limit of King's horror. They don't. Listen to The Long Walk and you will understand why.
The difference between King writing as King and King writing as Bachman ~ especially here in The Long Walk ~ is the presence or absence of hope. Even in the darkest of the King novels (perhaps, Pet Cemetery), the characters never abandon hope, even when that hope is ultimately self-destructive.
The Bachman books are different. Hope ~ for success, redemption, love, almost anything ~ is stripped away from the characters, sometimes dramatically all-at-once, sometimes incrementally. We, the readers, are then faced with what is left. Often, that is a new and profound terror.
The Long Walk is the archetype for such a plot. It is an amazingly compelling, step-by-step telling of the defining contest in an America that is recognizable to us, but has somehow strayed far off course. We are given just a few hints of how this happened and they are offered in passing, not as central plot elements. What the plot focuses on is the defining manifestation of this redrawn America ~ The Long Walk. Through it, we can see the contours of this new America.
And all that is just background. The story you will remember, the story King tells, is of the boys on this long walk. Avoiding spoilers, we watch them begin their competition as any boys would ~ with bluster and bravado, good humor and mischief. We watch as they test themselves, over a very long walk (recounted in a long 10+ hour tale). We watch them slowly stripped of, well, everything. And, in the end, we find ourselves, too, stripped of hope.
This is not horror in the sense of monsters and dungeons. There are no "gotcha" moments, no cheap thrills. This is a higher grade, more insidious terror. And, that makes it all the more compelling.
Spend the credit. Listen to the novel. Don't worry, you'll still be able to fall asleep afterwards. You just might not like your dreams.
In a small, peaceful town on the Equator, the sun always sets at 6, and a good audiobook is always the perfect evening companion.
It’s a simple, sinister plot with shades of the classic short story, “The Lottery.” One hundred selected teenage boys compete each year for a prize of unimaginable wealth by walking for days until only one of them is left. No stopping, no resting, no slowing down. Whenever one falls behind in the grueling march, he doesn’t just lose a shot at the prize; he is shot dead. Soldiers do the shooting and enforce the rules. An Orwellian government is implied but never detailed. All along the long route over back roads and highways, sometimes through cheering crowds and often alone together in the night, a little community develops among the characters, who both compete against and support each other in a struggle that all but one must lose. It is a long book – nearly 11 hours – and probably couldn’t fully impart the marathon nature of The Walk if it weren’t.
An interesting aside on grammar: In King’s book, “On Writing,” he rails against the over-use of adverbs, and suggests that the last step in writing a book is to go through and remove about half of them. Maybe it’s because I just heard that book, but in “The Long Walk” it seems like someone put them all back in, and quite a few more. Or maybe it’s because the fictitious Richard Bachman really does, as King claims, have a style of his own.
This book is a well written trip down a very dark road. It is not light hearted by any means (not that anyone would expect it to be). However, it is a fascinating venture into human behavior that will make you question how you would act if your mind and body were pushed to the absolute limit. It is brutal but I highly recommend it.
Loved the story, which was made all the more magnificent by the superb narration. Rather deep introspective study of life. A brilliant tapestry of a tale. It's about a lot more than walking a marathon. I liked it! I think it will stay rattling about in my head forever. Thank you Mr King/Bachman!!!!
Great mental stamina story. You think it's about the body walking but it's not. It's about your mind when you're not able to stop walking... and the minds of the others you're walking with.
Seeing through the eyes of main character made you truly feel part of this ordeal and feel real things for the other characters in the story.
At first I was bummed by the ending and as the ending approached I figured there could be no ending that would satisfy the build up but then the whole point of the story clicked. The long walk is about young men giving there lives in service to the Army for a country full of cheering idiots and no one can really answer the question WHY?! Why since before this country was even official have young men marched off to war and marched in parades to celebrate it? What is there to celebrate about people killing each other? The story does a great job of illustrating that if you get to know any of the people no matter how mean or how strange we are all human beings who at the core have the same needs and same fears. I served in a combat arms MOS for the Army for over 10 years and reached a point where I could re-enlist for a big pot of money and risk going overseas during the height of the post 9-11 war on terror or I could get out and never be in a situation where I had to kill some poor stranger in another country to which I was never invited in the first place. I chose to be poor and not risk killing anyone. I know I'm just naive. This is my take on it but to me the long walk makes us ask why did I and why do other young men continue to volunteer to serve the military machine when the only way to stop war is if there are no volunteers in the first place. You can't have a long walk if everyone refuses to walk. You may ask what about justice for 9-11. Well if you believe the official story then the real murderers on 9-11 all died in plane crashes. If you don't believe the official story then why should anyone serve this government?
Great feel for the individual characters and conveys that well through distinct voices for each boy.
It's hard not to say Garity because he's the main character but I think Stebbins is just as great a character because he represents how the youth may seek the approval of an elder father figure like young soldiers and sailors wanting the approval of their country but when you are being used there is no real love to be had. My brother has about a year left to go before he retires and he's on his fifth deployment to the middle-east since it all began. I just hope he makes it to the end of his long walk safe and sound and in one piece.
Buy the book and just enjoy the ride as disturbing as it may be
I like my horror, techno-thrillers, and science fiction. Which is why Jurassic Park and The Lost World are 2 of my favorite books ever!
What a fantastic book! This is a very cool story about a not-so-distant future where 100 teenage boys volunteer for a yearly, grueling, last-man-standing marathon. The competition is televised for America's entertainment, as one by one, the kids drop like flies. Put this in a pot, sprinkle some Running Man in, and you've got yourself The Hunger Games!
This is one of my favorite King stories, written under the psuedonym Richard Bachman.
Whether you are new to Stephen King (welcome to Planet Earth), or a fan looking for something else by the Master of Horror, I don't think this will disappoint!
Id walk long enough to get to my car, to go to the Walk, then i would run and hide in Canada.
I read this book a long time ago, and in audio format i feel that i got that much more out of the story this time. I love this story. If your a fan of the book, you will love the audio version.
If you never read this story before, buy it and listen to it. It will hook you and keep you wondering "what the hell is going on with these people, why are they doing this!"
Matuculous and extensive in his writing style, King does a great job illustrating protagonist's progression from somewhat naive and uncomplicated teenager to cynical and bitter young man, his slow departure into madness, and completely believable re-evaluation of self, the walk and his friends.
I wish there were more details on the 'universe' this book is set in. What caused this tradition? What kind of world they live in? I prefer well-developed backdrops in fiction, but lack of commentary did not take away from the book. All you see as a reader is a road, seemingly endless, bleak and full of ache.
I have read some criticisms of the ending, but the ending was intelligent. It is ambiguous, and seemingly purposefully so. If you want to settle into a happy ending where the knots are fitfully tied, perhaps romance novels would be more suiting.
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