The Long Walk was first released in 1979 but is still being published in paperback and audio formats, and was recently made available in eBook format.
Synopsis from the author’s website:
In the near future, where America has become a police state, one hundred boys are selected to enter an annual contest where the winner will be awarded whatever he wants for the rest of his life. The game is simple – maintain a steady walking pace of four miles per hour without stopping. Three warnings, and you’re out – permanently.
This is not so much a review as an invitation to read, for those of you haven’t already read (if that’s even possible), one of Stephen King’s lesser known, but no less brilliant stories. Written originally under the pen name of Richard Bachman, who took a much darker view toward writing than Mr. King, The Long Walk has a gripping plot, a disturbing subject matter, and a devastating conclusion. (Do NOT read the Wikipedia page before reading the book as it reads more like CliffsNotes and will give away the farm.)
The Long Walk is the story of a contest. One set in some future version of America under military control, where actions and speech are monitored and controlled. Speaking out against the powers that be will result in immediate removal to never be heard from again. Even speaking about those who’ve been taken is a risk.
The contest is fairly simple: You walk until you can’t, there can be only one winner, you must be a teenage boy and you must walk at least four miles per hour with only three 30-second “breaks” before you “buy your ticket” out of the race.
Ray Garrity, the protagonist, and all his fellow contestants joined this walk with the same confidence that all teenage boys seem to exude – that they are infallible, unbeatable, invincible. The walk is seen through his eyes and the reader learns about the other characters of note through Ray’s interaction with and thoughts about them.
While written in the more terse style of Richard Bachman, the reader is still able to connect with Ray and feel the loss for all those young boys who didn’t have what it takes.
As someone who has purchased and repurchased this book due to multiple reads causing the pages to fall out, it is a definite “must read.” Just be prepared for a grim journey.
This book may be released in film someday, as most King novels are, but the spirit of this story can only truly be captured by readers’ imaginations and not by a filmmaker’s adaptation, so be sure to read the book before seeing the film. (Frank Darabont had acquired the rights to this story, but is yet to do anything with it. Frank Darabont directed three other films from Stephen King adaptations.)