Updated: Dec 15, 2019
The Long Walk is my first experience reading Stephen King. From my time in horror groups and blogs, it seems like you either love the author or you hate him. I’ve heard his endings suck and the movies are almost always better than the book. But why would he continue to be a best-selling author if he just regurgitated the same plots over and over. Then again, I do trust Family Guy from time to time...
Since I consider the extremely limited time I have to read and write sacred, the worst thing I can imagine is wasting it on a looong book that disappoints. Hence my apprehension to read anything by Stephen King. But, after being cajoled by many friends, I took a look at his extensive category and settled on The Long Walk. After all, I’m working on a graphic YA novel with my mentor, so we figured it was a good idea to read a graphic YA novel by one of the masters—not sure if everyone considers it YA, but it made a list of top 100 teen dystopias by the American Library Association.
My first reaction: the ending sucked! Then I paused and tried to give it some deep reflection and…it almost pains me to say this, but the ending is perfect for the story. It’s just not the ending I wanted, lol. Let’s make something clear though, I still have a few bones to pick with Mr. King.
WARNING* I will drop one spoiler below, but if you’re good with that, read on…
So what is the Long Walk? It’s a competition set in a dystopian America, where almost everything appears to be the same as it was in the real American 80s, except now, young boys eighteen and under can sign up for a walk that goes from the Canadian border down through Massachusetts and keeps on going until there’s a winner. How do you win? Be the last boy standing.
All walkers must maintain a speed of 4mph. If they drop below that speed, they get a warning. Three warnings and you get a ticket—a ticket means the soldiers policing the long walk blow your brains out. That’s right. You can also get a ticket for interfering with another walker physically, but you can mess with them mentally/verbally all you want. There is no time to sleep. No bathroom breaks. You eat while you walk. Or you die. The prize for all this mental torture? The winner gets anything they want for the rest of their life. Hoorah! How else could you get healthy boys with their entire life in front of them to do something so insane?
What I enjoyed: Super cool premise. Great dialogue. The way propaganda is used to build up the walk and the Major.
Issues: Nothing really happens. Origins of the walk are never explained. That ending?!
As I said, my first thought is to agree with the naysayers that said King sucks. However, he made 300 pages of walking interesting. Seriously, that’s all the boys do, walk and get shot. That takes talent! Although, it is kind of annoying that there was not really a plot or a problem that characters were trying to solve. You’re only reading to see who will win. We know you can’t interfere with a walker, so there’s no fighting except a little psychological teen warfare which can be fun, but other than one twist that comes in the last two chapters (and is never really capitalized on) nothing happens. That may piss some readers off.
However, if I take the story as a metaphor for war, I understand why the origins of the long walk are never fully explained—though there are some cool little hints King throws in here and there, like Germany invading parts of America. Now that I’m writing this, I guess it’s neat that you can infer how it happened based on that alone. Real talk though: wars break out for tons of reasons, despite what the history books tell us. Besides, when you’re in the trenches fighting for your life, does it even matter if Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated or if a trade treaty was unfair or if the boat was in the Gulf of Tonkin or if the news stories are all faked or any other propaganda. When you’re in the muck, the origins of a war are pointless.
Yes, the main character Ray Garraty does win the walk, but he doesn’t get to enjoy what he wants for the rest of his life. He just keeps walking toward a dark figure that only he can see, his mind and body are destroyed. Again, by itself, a reader may feel cheated by this ending, but from the perspective of a metaphor, there are no winners in war. Everyone has traumas in their lives, but I can’t imagine what PTSD from war looks like. For many soldiers, the war never ends. They fight (walk) forever. In that regard, the ending was perfect. Nothing is resolved, nobody wins, and next year, the long walk will continue and they’ll get a new set of boys to march and die.
So, while I wished there was more twists and an explanation of how America adopted this Nazi-esque death game, it was still a great book! Though I feel very much about Stephen King as I did with Carlton Mellick III. I had fun reading, but I’m unsure. I need to do more experimenting with their work. My suggestion for The Long Walk; make it a short walk. Keep the same plot and ending, but making it a novella may be more powerful. What do I know though, Stephen's the king. I’m just a walker looking for a big break.
What did you think of the novel and what Stephen King book should I read next?