In an attempt to explain the creation of Richard Bachman, the prolific author says that “Stephen King” writes on sunny days; “Richard Bachman” wrote on rainy days. If that is so, readers of It and The Shining (and numerous others) might wonder what kind of dark sun shines upon Stephen King.
Like "Bachman's" The Running Man, this novel is game show-based - a game show from hell. When originally written, it might have seemed even more far-fetched than it does today. But with shows like Survivor and Fear Factor crowding the airwaves, it is beginning to look like a "game" like The Long Walk is just around the television corner.
In a future (and vaguely apocalyptic) U.S., "The Long Walk" is THE game. The rules are simple: 100 contestants start walking and continue to walk until only one is left. That one left standing wins a great (again purposely vague) prize. Unfortunately, once in the game, a contestant cannot simply say "enough," get a bottle of water, and give up. If a contestant says "enough" or stops walking - or walks at a speed less than four miles an hour - that contestant is given a warning. After three warnings, that contestant gets his “ticket" - i.e., he is shot dead. Simple game, and horrific in its simplicity. The game appears to be available only to males; none of the contestants (this year?) are female.
As the contest goes on, and the inevitability of death (for all but one) begins to dominate, the reader has the sense of reading about one of those “death-marches” from an historic war. All (or most) sense of humanity begins to evaporate as each contestant begins to resent the continuation of life for the other contestants; each contestant essentially sheds his civilized veneer as the law of the jungle takes over. Some do so readily, others regretfully (as Garraty does), but ultimately the desire to simply live (and for the others to die) comes out on top.
Is this a metaphor for life? Or an anti-capitalism metaphor? Who knows? Let those who like to intellectualize stories such as this, do so.
This is, quite simply, an early Stephen King tour-de-force. A writer with lesser character-development skills could not have made a compelling book based on such a basic, simple plot device. A short story, possibly, but not a tale of novel length. Here Stephen King succeeds very nicely, indeed.