As a huge Stephen King fan, I enjoy comparing King's work to the books he penned for many years under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
King wrote this book while he was a student at the University of Maine in the late 1960s and although it was his first book, it wasn't published until 1979 - several years after "Carrie" - as a Bachman book.
"The Long Walk" is a nearly 400-page tome about human endurance during a public event known as The Long Walk. On May 1 each year, 100 teenage boys begin walking south from the Maine/Canada border until the last one remains. It's crazy to think this premise could fill a book - and a good book, at that - but it does.
"The Long Walk" sucks you in with its characters and their individual motivations for doing The Long Walk. All the boys attempt this endeavor knowing that there will only be one winner, one survivor.
They all have their reasons, and some don't. And learning about each character - and how they handle the physical and mental stress of The Long Walk -keeps it interesting.
"The Long Walk" focuses on Raymond Davis Garraty, a 16-year-old boy from Maine. Early on, Garraty befriends several other Walkers, and the small group makes a pact to help each other until it gets close to the end - then no more Musketeers. That pact comes in handy as several boys help each other from getting too many warnings.
The Walkers must maintain a 4 mph speed and stay inside the road, no matter what the weather or their situation. Got to go to the bathroom? Make sure you can do it while walking fast enough or risk getting a warning. Lose a shoe? Keep walking. Too hungry? You have to wait until the rations are given out the next morning. When Walkers get too many warnings they are shot in the head in front of everyone else, including The Long Walk spectators.
This book seems like a "Hunger Games" predecessor. There are characters you know aren't going to make it, but you really, really want them to (I wanted Garraty and the others to find a loophole or a way for two people to win, like Katniss did). And then there are ones you want to "get ticketed" who hang on until the end.
It's interesting to learn why each boy reveals he's a Walker. One is married. Another knows he's going to die. Others are in it for the Prize: anything the winner wants for the rest of his life. (Whether anyone actually gets the prize is discussed by the boys, as several previous Long Walk winners died shortly after the event from the trauma to their body or mind.)
The Walkers all have some knowledge of what's happening along the way, even though they eventually separate into packs.
And each time the boys hear a shot in the distance, you hope it's someone else, a character you didn't meet. Because you're on this walk now, too.
Aside from reading about the grueling physical ailments - walking on swollen feet in pus-soaked shoes -there's also the mental anguish each boy undergoes along the way. The Long Walk is not only a physical trial, but a psychological one, as the Walkers are continually faced with death.
Although the story itself is simple, the message goes much deeper: Why do we do what we do when we know the obvious outcome?
Each Walker knows he will face death shortly after May 1. Don't we all know that death is inevitable, even though we don't know the date?
The book is dark, depressing and exhausting, but it also reminds you how great it is to be alive.