[Long Walk] Books That Shine: A Chronological Reread of Stephen King

I probably should have mentioned in my review of Rage that it was not published under Stephen King’s own name but by Richard Bachman.  The reason for this according to my research was that King wanted to publish more than one novel a year.  An idea his publisher was against, not wanting to oversaturate the market with the work of one author, even a best-selling one.  This would change in the years to come as publishers realized King sold no matter how many books he put out, and there are positives and negatives to this, but I’ll cover that when we get there.  

King and his publisher came to a compromise, allowing him to publish extra books under a pseudonym and thus Richard Bachman was born. What’s strange about King’s desire to release more books was that he didn’t utilize it in the beginning to publish new work, instead, he did so to publish older novels he had written that publishers weren’t as interested in.  King states that his reason for Richard Bachman was to discover if his own success was down to luck or talent.  I find this interesting as when the first Bachman book came out, he had only published three books under the King’s name, Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining.  All were immensely successful, but it’s interesting to know that King doubted his talents as a writer so early on.  Even with the success of those three books King was not the household name, he would go on to become in the 80s, plus his own publisher, Doubleday, was known to not respect the work he was doing in the same way they did more literary fiction.  So perhaps that was what lead to the creation of Bachman. 

The Long Walk by Stephen King

Anyway, enough of the history lesson.  King’s seventh book, The Long Walk, was released under the name Richard Bachman in 1979.  As previously mentioned, this was not a newly written book, with some sources saying it was King’s first-ever attempt at a written novel. Modern readers may find the novel’s premise similar to that of The Hunger Games, but in reading it The Long Walk sits closer to such novels as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle.  The former being a favorite of King’s.

Set in an alternative future where The Second World War lasted beyond 1945 The Long Walk is a competitive event that’s televised across America. A 100 boys are chosen to walk across the county’s highways until only one remain. The rules are they have to walk above 4 miles per hour. If they don’t, they get a warning. If they get three warnings they are murdered before the world by a troop of US soldiers.

I first read this book ten years ago and remember being captured by its characters, feeling awe and shock by the brutality that they endure and even more so by how it ends.  However, I did not feel as connected on the reread, probably because I was 18 when I first read this and I could empathise more with the characters who are all around that age. Plus, I discovered a similar thing that I experienced when reading Rage, allowing to a lesser extent, that the writer did not seem to have the fluid-like ease that previous King books have had.  In fact, sometimes I had to reread certain passages, in order, to understand them.

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The Long Walk by Stephen King

The book begins with the reader being introduced to the cast of characters through the eyes of the main protagonist, Ray Garratty. First impressions are everything and instantly the reader knows, which characters they like and dislike. These impressions don’t last as characters break down, changing our original perception of them. King seems to understand this and gives everyone their own moment, some small, some large, to behave differently to the person they appear to be. For example, one of the boys attempts to overthrow the soldiers monitoring them with devastating results.  

We get small details about the world these people live in but not enough to give the reader a full perspective of it, which only adds to the sinister sensation of dread the reader feels. It’s a fantastic choice as it pulls the reader into the story, wanting to know more, yet never given enough information to fully understand this troubled world.  And that’s the brilliance here.  We are constantly reminded of how brutal the world is, the boys are trailed at all times by soldiers ready to gun them down, yet King weaves tenderness as each character reveals more and more about themselves. The book becomes something of literary torture as we learn about these people’s lives only for them to be torn away, sometimes climatically, sometimes not.  

There are many books that struggle to have one stand-out character, The Long Walk is full of them and showcases just how great King is at delivering character-driven storytelling.

Despite these things I still struggled to read this book, knowing that I had enjoyed it so much more than my previous read, yet the language of the story, which could be confusing at times, prevented me from feeling that way.  

Tier:  Books That Try, Sometimes Too Hard

Rating:

Companion Book:  Cockblock by C.V Hunt 

Sonya and Callie mean to enjoy a quiet night out together. You know take a break from the rat race and simply relax in the comfort of each other.  Men have over plans, all men.  Every single man on the planet has somehow been transformed into psychotic killing machine that are consumed with a hatred for one thing: women.  

Cockblock by C V Hunt

This is a fantastic satirical horror novella, the first story that came to mind when thinking of a companion book for The Long Walk.  Both stories paint a world in an utterly brutal and grim lens, altering the course of history as we know it while containing memorable characters the reader can root for.

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart

Author

Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

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