Pros: Absolutely fascinating premise
Cons: I wish there was a little more context
Rating: 4 out of 5
In Stephen King’s The Long Walk, a group of young teenage boys–well, they take a long walk. There are rules for this walk. You cannot drop below a certain speed without getting a warning–and if you get too many warnings, they shoot you dead. This is not some small ten-mile walk, either. They go until only one boy remains, and that can take a long time. They’re given water, they’re given a certain minimum of food, but if they so much as stop to take a piss they get that warning. They can burn off a warning by walking for an hour without picking up any other warnings.
This being a Stephen King book, nothing about human anatomy and its foibles is white-washed. There’s puking, there’s shitting one’s pants, there’s bloody corpses.
There are a few hints of context along the way. A national test. A cut-off date to refuse to participate. Understudies, so to speak, in case anyone doesn’t show up. Supposedly, win and you get anything you want–not that anyone seems to understand what that means. People set themselves up beside the road to watch and make bets as though it was like any other marathon, just more gruesome. Contenders make and break friendships along the way; the further they make it, after all, the more readily it becomes apparent that either they will die, or all of the friends they’re making will die.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the fact that there is virtually no context for this. I want to know what societal development resulted in ritually killing a hundred boys by walking them to their deaths. I want to know what made this ‘okay’. I can’t really see a path from here to there, which means the story has a hole in it. That said, I’m not sure if it would reduce the power of the story if you knew why it came about. Or maybe King just wanted to give us a pure experience of man-vs.-man, without having to worry about when or why.
The Long Walk distills each boy down to his basest parts, stripping away layer after layer of society and expectations. It’s fascinating. Stephen King is probably one of the few authors who could take something like this, without that context, and make it fascinating throughout its length.