Review: The Long Walk
- Not rated
First book review on this blog. My first review ever, for that sake. I won't give any kind of ranking, because I don't believe a mark reflects anything. I would never give 1 or 2 stars to a book anyway, I simply would stop reading it.
The plot in The Long Walk is very simple and can be explained in a few sentences. In a dystopic future, a marathon called the Long Walk is organised once a year. 100 boys between 16 and 18 start at the Canadian border in Maine, and walk south; we follow the steps of Ray Garraty, number 47. It is not immediately clear what the Prize for winning is, but it's clearly something big. Downside: if you stop walking, you "get the ticket"... I won't spoil anything, but knowing Stephen King, you can come up with a qualified guess as to what "getting the ticket" means. The winner is the last man walking, so keep your pace above the required 4 mph!
The Long Walk is a remarkable book. Just like Rage (another novel Stephen King wrote under the pen name 'Richard Bachman'), it had a profound impression on me. If you're just looking for a nice and realixing horror book, The Long Walk might not do the trick. It's slow, and filled with cryptic passages during which not much happen. Plus, the ending is unclear, but we'll get back to that. However, if you delve into the book, and try to make sense of the seemingly random comments and outbursts of some of the boys, the development of Garraty's thoughts, the symbolism of the road and the crowd, and so on, a whole new layer is added to the book. Every boy in the Walk must have a reason to be walking, and with a bit of close-reading and imagination the reader can try to figure these out. Look out for references to surreal worlds, like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
That being said, the novel can easily be read and understood without paying attention to small details. It's entertaining in a very macabre way. Here's an extract so that you may see what the book is like. Two Walkers, Pearson and Scramm, are talking to each other. Scramm has caught a cold.
"You don't sound so good," Pearson said, and there might have been careful optimism in his voice.
"Luggy for me I god a good codstitution," Scramm said cheerfully. "I thing I'be rudding a fever now."
"Jesus, how do you keep going?" Abraham asked, and there was a kind of religious fear in his voice.
"Me? Talk about me?" Scramm said. "Look at hib! How does he keep going? Thad's what I'd like to know!" And he cocked his thumb at Olson.
Olson had not spoken for two hours. He had not touched his newest canteen. Greedy glances were shot at his foodbelt, which was also almost untouched. His eyes, darkly obsidian, were fixed straight ahead. His face was speckled by two days of beard and it looked sickkly vulpine. Even his hair, frizzed upin back and hanging across his forehead in front, added to the overall impression of ghoulishness. His lips were parched dry and blistering. His tongue hung over his bottom lip like a dea serpent on the lip of a cave. Its healthy pinkness had disappeared. It was dirty-gray now. Road-dust clung to it.
He's there, Garraty thought, sure he is. Where Stebbins said we'd all go if we stuck with it stuck with it long enough. How deep inside himself is he? Fathoms? Miles? Light-years? How deep and how dark? And the answer came back to him: Too deep to see out. He's hiding down there in the darkness and it's too deep to see out.
"Olson?" he said softly. "Olson?"
Olson didn't answer answer. Nothing moved but his feet.
"I wish he'd put his tongue in at least," Pearson whispered nervously.
The Walk went on.
Then there's the ending. Some endings make you go "No don't stop now, I want to know more!"; others make you go "Oh, that was a perfect ending"; others "That ending sucked."
The ending of The Long Walk made me go: "what."
One the one hand, the ending fits perfectly the rest of the book, because it is left to to the reader to decide what happened and what will happen. The last few pages are crammed with innocent words that are loaded with special meaning (or maybe I'm just imagining stuff). On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded getting a proper explanation of the ending. It's the ending that could probably spoil this book for some readers.
Then again, it's a genre that doesn't use "Happily Ever After".