Tuesday, August 6, 2013
"The Long Walk" by Stephen King
It's appropriate that I read The Long Walk at the onset of a 10-day trip to England and Wales. Because one of the aspects that makes The Long Walk work is the outwardly mundane nature of its premise. One hundred boys sign up for a competition--and they start walking. The last one standing wins. There's no fighting, no subversive techniques (well, unless you count the fact that you are shot dead if you stop for more 30 seconds or drop below a four miles per hour pace three times in an hour). The winner just walks longer and farther than anyone else.
And the reason I mention my trip is because, at first, walking seems easy. Walking is easy. We all do it everyday. I really enjoy walking. But after spending a week of heavy walking, including walking eleven miles through downtown London one day, I can also say: walking is exhausting. By the end of my day in London, my shins hurt, my feet hurt, and my back hurt. I just wanted to sit down. Though, of course, I'd been able to take breaks throughout the day, eat normally, use a restroom, and go the speed I wished--the characters in the novel don't have that luxury.
King does an excellent job as well showing how grueling walking can be over the long run, both physically and mentally on the boys. The main character is Garraty, and like most characters in the novel, he doesn't have a clear motive for entering. At first, this bothered me. Because the winner gets anything he wants for life, I assumed the contestants would be either in dire straights financially or be full of bravado (like the Careers in Hunger Games). After all, you're almost certain to die in the competition. But, these characters are teenagers, so their entry makes sense. Everyone else was applying. Once they got in, they delayed backing out. They avoided thinking about the reality of what they were going to do. They were dissatisfied with their lives without really knowing why.
Since the plot of the novel is comprised solely of the characters walking, its strength has to be based on the relationships built between the characters. I enjoyed how the friendship of Garraty and McVries developed over time, and characters like Scramm, Stebbins, and Barkovitch are also drawn well.
In many ways, The Long Walk is an anti-Hunger Games, exploring through a somewhat similar concept the fight within the self rather than the fight between others or against a corrupt government (though the government in the book does seem corrupt, it's barely explored, and there's little evidence of a real tyranny). I'd highly recommend.