youthfulzombie and her "Best reads of 2011" post that first brought my attention to this book. Second I would like to give myself a pat on the back for coming up with an ingenious way to be able to read while stuffing envelopes at work. Gotta love making a monotonous task a bit more fun.
"The Long Walk" is a novel written by Stephen King under the nom de plume Richard Bachman. Although I vaguely remember that he used a pseudonym at one time, I didn't fully realize that he had written so many books under the Bachman name. It seems that he may have done this to prove to himself that people were buying his books for the quality within rather than the brand name of Stephen King. Since the truth was brought to light too quickly he was unable to properly prove this one way or another. I would have liked to been able to read a Bachman book to see if I would have been smart enough to recognize the voice of my favorite author even in hiding.
King offers us an introduction to this book called "The Importance of Being Bachman" in which he indicates that Bachman was also a way for him to offer up a different side of himself, a darker side. That darker side inspired the book "The Dark Half" which is in my to read pile as we speak. I seem to think that I have read all of Kings works but more just keep turning up.
Onto the book itself. "The Long Walk" has a relatively simple premise: on May 1 at 9am of each year 100 teen aged boys start out on a walk. They must maintain a pace of 4 miles per hour and if they slow or stop for more than 30 seconds then they receive a warning and after three warnings your number is up, literally. You can walk the warnings off, but it takes an hour for each one. They are allowed as much water as they want but food concentrates are only given once per day and you are not allowed to stop for bodily functions. The last man standing wins a prize of their choosing. It is unclear exactly why they would participate, but a variety of reasons are hinted at and I am sure that each may have a personal reason as well.
There are soldiers on the sidelines in a halftrack vehicle, responsible for tracking the walkers taking out those who need to be taken out. There are also references to some mysterious "squads" that seem to whisk off non-compliant members of society. The whole walk is presided over by the Major, both worshiped and despised by the walkers. There are many spectators at certain parts of the walk, and they are compared to the audiences of Roman gladiator fights.
Our hero is Ray Garrity, he is native to Maine where the walk starts out so he is a hero to a lot of the onlookers. We do meet many of the 100 Long Walkers, the ones that stood out most to me were McVries, Baker, Barkovich and Stebbins. A few of the walkers form a sort of alliance, they call themselves musketeers while others are more alienated, like Barkovich and Stebbins. Stebbins is aloof and a source of great intrigue for Garrity.
King simply makes the rules, puts the players on the course and lets it all play out. A simple premise, yet very engrossing. It left me with a lot to think about, like how long that some of the walkers continued to help each other out. You would think with death on the line you would want to have the others fail as soon as possible, but I suppose that basic human kindness still exists even in a situation like this, and also what goes around comes around I suppose.
Once again I was sucked into a world designed by Mr King and I did enjoy every dark minute of it. I am even a bit sad that it is over, but I do have many many books waiting for me on my to read shelf so I better get back to reading!
Just one final note, wikipedia has this image as the original cover for the book, the above is my library book. I love this cover!