The Long Walk
by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

This book might not fit comfortably on a Christian book shelf with its harsh language, gore, and provocative imagery. And yet, perhaps it would based on the love and compassion its main characters portray as pages are turned. If you've read any of Stephen King's books, you are familiar with his elements of surprise, emotional rides, and detailed character development. The Long Walk was released in 1979, under King's pseudonym, Richard Bachman. It's a heart-wrenching tale about 100 normal teenage boys on a walk like none other. Strangers when they meet, they soon come to know the strengths and weaknesses of each other on a walk that only ends when just one boy is left alive.

The Long Walk is a yearly competition held on May 1st in an America that has become insensitive to its citizens, a place where speaking your mind has dire consequences, like being "squaded" and taken away by soldiers, sometimes never to be seen again.

The 100 walkers are selected through a drawing. The boys voluntarily sign up. However, once on the roster, the boys can change their minds and be replaced by an alternate, but only until a designated date. Once the date passes, there is no turning back. Contest rules are strictly and swiftly upheld. Walking under 4 mph for 30 seconds gets a boy a warning. Once a boy has accrued 3 warnings and commits another infraction, he buys his “ticket”, meaning he is killed by expressionless soldiers who flank the group of boys on half tracks during the whole walk. A boy leaving the roadway, interfering with the soldiers who enforce the rules, or any bystander is killed without warnings. There is no stopping to sleep, although some boys perfect walking while they sleep. The group eventually dwindles down from 100 boys to one who wins anything he wants and is deemed a hero.

Aside from the murderous intent of this horrific contest, Americans bet billions of dollars on favorites and cheer when the others are shot down. The few onlookers who try to help are quickly pounced upon by the soldiers and rushed away.

To me the most profound thing about the book is what goes on in the hearts and minds of the boys as days pass. A small group which includes the main character, Ray Garraty, develop a special kinship - checking in with each other, prodding each other along. Occasionally one or two of them help another to stay on his feet. Eventually though, the will to survive takes over and the group makes a pact to abstain from interfering.

The most dramatic change of heart comes near the end of the walk on the fifth day with three boys left. Suddenly, a boy named McVries, who Ray has come to think highly of decides he cannot go on. At this point, Ray has to make a decision, to follow the pact or not. That one can love his neighbor as much as he loves himself is very evident as the walk draws to an end.

Reviewed by Barbara Ogden