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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Victoria Reviews: The Long Walk by Stephen King (Richard Bachman)

I don't often read Stephen King books (though this one is under his pen name, Richard Bachman), but when I do, it never seems to be one of his more famous works.  This is the third King book I've read (the first one being On Writing and the second being 11/22/63…both were wonderful).  Many people who have either read none of his works or only a few of them push King into the Horror section and never look back, but they might be surprised to find that King is much more versatile than that.  Of the two of his novels I've read so far, I wouldn't classify either one as horror.  They have some frightening elements, sure, and they are occasionally unpleasant and often tense, but King's writing is so much more than just scary.  He has a wonderful ability to bring characters to life and use all the elements of his story to tie everything together in a unique and fascinating way.

The Long Walk is about a group of 100 boys who volunteer to join the book's namesake event, the Long Walk.  The point of the Walk is for all of them to walk at a minimum speed of 4 mph until there is only one left walking.  Anyone who stops walking, falls below 4 mph, or in some other way breaks the rules receives a "warning," and three warnings earn you a "ticket," which means you're out of the Walk (I won't say how this works…spoilers).  The prize?  Anything you want for the rest of your life.

There are no stops, pauses, rests, or anything of the like in the Long Walk.  The boys must walk constantly and continuously until the end, however long and far that might be.  The book, therefore, turns rather psychological as the constant walking starts to wear on their bodies and minds.

The book is written in third person limited perspective from the point of view of Ray Garraty, number 47.  He quickly makes friends with some of the other boys, forming a group they call the Musketeers.  King does a beautiful job of making these characters come alive.  One might expect the description (and Garraty's thoughts) to linger on the characters' feet – the pain of the beating their feet take as they walk over 100 miles without stopping – but King spends much more time inside their minds.  You really get to know several of the characters very well, and they spend a decent portion of the Long Walk discussing deep and philosophical questions and ideas, most likely to keep their minds off the pain in their bodies and feet.

One interesting thing I discovered while reading this novel is that you really start to feel everything that's happening to the characters.  It's very subtle, but by the end, the effect is unmistakable.  Halfway through, I realized I was physically exhausted and wanted to sit down and rest, but it didn't make much sense because I was already laying down and relaxing.  It was strange to feel a certain physical aspect of the story in real life, rather than just having everything take place in my head, but it says a lot about King's descriptive skills.

This novel was actually the first one that King ever wrote (though it wasn't the first published), and to a certain extent, you can tell.  The writing isn't quite up to the same skill level of his later works, simply because he didn't have the years of experience for this one.  I must say, though, that for a first novel, this one is pretty amazing.  His lack of experience doesn't detract from the story at all, and King's signature style is still quite obvious.  Overall, it was an incredibly tense and fascinating novel to read, quite different from my usual reading material.  The Long Walk proves that time is not what made Stephen King a phenomenal writer; he's always been that way.

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