Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: The Long Walk

The Long Walk (Stephen King)

In an alternate history, America's biggest sporting event is the Long Walk. The Long Walk consists of one hundred teenage boys walking for as long as they can, until only one remains. The catch is, when you bow out of the walk, you die. The novel consists of the point of view of one walker, Garraty, and his experience winning the Long Walk. Other characters are introduced, and the ever changing interaction between the doomed walkers is the focal point of the story.

This is very much a character driven novel, the plot is very simple, but effective enough. There are some allusions to events that changed the course of history, although the origins of the Long Walk are never explicitly stated. There is an antagonist in the form of Barkovitch, a sadistic walker, but much of the conflict comes from the Long Walk itself, as weather, fatigue, hunger, and large crowds chip away at the walker's sanity. Thankfully, the novel does stay true to its premise, and there is no cop out ending to save some of the more likeable minor characters, though the ending is somewhat ambiguous in terms of the main character's fate.

This novel serves as an excellent look into people under the stress of imminent death while fatigued beyond belief. Many of the characters come across as resilent and enduring, but after the walk is under way, the facades crack one by one as walkers simply lose their will to live. Another interesting facet of the novel is the interaction between walkers; people who should be enemies in the same way as opposing armies in war talk like best friends and grow to know one another. Through this interaction we learn about the secondary characters, many of whom come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for accepting the challenge of the Walk.

Even though the book is written using only one point of view, something that does eliminate tension as it was nearly guaranteed that Garraty would finish, the author does an excellent job of making the truly doomed side characters sympathetic. Garraty grows very close to some of these strangers by the end of the novel, and in some ways he knew them better than anyone else ever could have. Garraty emerges as a very interesting character in his own right, as his feelings towards DeVries develop, and he finds himself thinking about winning the race less and less, instead looking simply to survive another hour.

Fairly standard prose, descriptions are appropriate but somewhat repetitive, mostly fleeting glimpses of small towns and forested areas. Dialogue is adequate as well. The writing style as the book progresses is in fact interesting, the first few deaths are explained in great detail, but after that, with the exception of already introduced characters, the walkers are shot without anyone reacting, and often times without their names even being revealed to the reader. This, along with the constant nods to the aches and pains of the surviving walkers, helps promote a very hopeless athmosphere that colors all of the character interactions, thoughts, and even setting descriptions.

An interesting, if limited, premise, The Long Walk presents an excellent look at people under an otherworldly amount of stress placed in an unthinkable position.

Final Score

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