Monday, August 6, 2012

The Long Walk by Stephen King

The Long Walk by Stephen King was recommended to me by a friend, and upon hearing the premise of the story, I immediately wanted to read it.

The novel centers around 16-year-old Ray Garraty, who is a competitor of the Long Walk. The Long Walk is an annual walking competition consisting of 100 boys who have volunteered to be in it. Once the competition starts, the walkers have to keep a pace of 4 miles per hour, or else they get a warning. If a walker' speed drops below 4 MPH after his third warning, he will "buy a ticket," which is a euphemism for being shot dead. Then, the competition continues until there is only one walker alive...

I really liked this novel. Not only was the premise simple and interesting, the entire book was very suspenseful. Yes, I actually knew who would be the eventual winner because my sister had spoiled it to me, but my heart was still racing throughout the entire time when I was reading the novel. I simply couldn't wait to see who would buy the ticket next, and for what reason.

(note: spoiler ahead) 

Despite being interested in when and how the characters died, I was much more intrigued by the characters' back stories— why they had chosen to join the competition in the first place. Unlike other survival contests like the Hunger Games or Battle Royale, the participants of the Long Walk actually joined the competition voluntarily, and at first I really couldn't imagine why anyone would wish to do so. However, through the characters' conversations with each other, I gradually learned their motives and reasons. Scramm eyed for the Prize (to make him and his wife better off financially) and McVries subconsciously wanted to die because of his girlfriend. As for Garraty, I think he wanted a chance to stand out and be cheered, and just didn't know what he was getting into. These back stories really made me sympathize with the characters, and they made me wish that all of them could somehow survive.

I was touched by Stebbins' story the most, though. He wanted to get acknowledged as the Major's son —he was the Major's illegitimate child. However, by the end he realized that he was simply "the rabbit"— he was used by his father to make the other walkers walk longer and to make the competition more intense. (the analogy is to the mechanical rabbits in dog races, where those rabbits make the dogs run faster). O what sorrow, to be used by his father whom he greatly admired and wanted to be intimate to! I felt really sad when he differentiated himself from the mechanical rabbits, saying that he was made of blood and flesh and could not last for much longer. I really wished Stebbins could win...

Why didn't Stebbins win? Well, it was all due to McVries helping Garraty in several occasions, saving his life. And this is another thing that really interested me— the boys' interactions with each other. In such a serious competition where life and death was at hand, why would the boys want to talk to each other, let alone helping each other? Why didn't they regard each other as enemies? If I were in the Walk, I probably would have avoided losing energy by not talking to all the strangers beside me! Perhaps the boys' talking to each other reflected the human nature of wanting company, of not wanting to be alone.

However, helping each other was a completely different matter from talking to each other. By assisting another walker, a contestant would decrease his own chance of winning! For example, why would McVries be willing to garner three warnings himself to try to help Garraty? Why would Garraty want to encourage Baker to walk longer? To me, this reflected how much the contestants had bonded over the course of the Walk (which I simply cannot fathom, as I am not a contestant myself). I also think this reflected humans' natural tendency to help a dying friend, even if it's against their best interest. And such a thought is actually quite heart-warming. It's quite nice to have something encouraging among all the other morbid elements in the book.

Finally, I really liked the ending. It seemed quite logical that Garraty would be mentally unstable and have some weird delusions after five days of non-stop walking. It showed how the Walk was not only a test to one's physical capacity, but also one's mental strength; it wore down both the body and the mind. I wonder what would happen to Garraty afterwards. Would he live? I don't know. But if he does, I am certain that he would never be able to return to normal—not after such a huge psychological shock.

Now, whenever I am walking alone, I would probably think of The Long Walk. I would be reminded of what the characters had to go through. I would think think of what I would do in such a competition— would I be willing to talk to or even help others? I would also wonder how I would do in such a competition: how much stamina and will I would have. In short, The Long Walk will always be in my mind, and this is why I think it is a must-read. It is not only extremely suspenseful, but it also leaves a lasting imprint in the reader's mind.