I’ve read most of the pseudonymous Bachman novels (RAGE, THE RUNNING MAN, THINNER, even THE REGULATORS – though the less said about that last one the better), but I’ve never found them particularly essential. They were perfectly fine, but weren’t compulsive, must read King. (I am perfectly aware though that there are plenty of Stephen King books with his own name on the cover which are also not compulsive or must read). However I drop down on my knees in praise to THE LONG WALK. This is a wonderfully brutal dystopian vision of the future, which J.G. Ballard would have been proud of. This is first order and essential King.
In an alternate version of reality (King merely alludes to where and how our reality and this reality divorced), a hundred young men are brought together and forced to walk. Starting in Maine, they have to cover four miles an hour every hour, without slowing up or ever resting. Those who do stop, or lose the pace, or faint, or collapse to the ground with cramps, or try to escape are shot dead by the ever present military. The narrative follows Garrity, one of the walkers (and the local Maine boy the crowds cheer on) and charts how his feet are worn away, his strength fades, his fellow walkers collapse and die while he keeps plodding away.
THE LONG WALK is a superb example of a book taking a simple idea and forcing it to its logical conclusion. This is an uncompromising page turner of a book, which is never short of inventive. He may have hidden his light under the Bachman bushel, but this is bravura King.
(Being British, I also love the fact that genial game-show host Nicholas Parsons is mentioned).
Actually mentioned in this Stephen King novel
Frank Darabont, who has made a career out of adapting Stephen King for the screen – having given us THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (superb), THE MIST (good) and THE GREEN MILE (long) – apparently has the rights to it. Though any film adaptation would fill me with something like trepidation. I can’t see how a big budget film would ever get across the wonderful bleakness of what we have here. If nudged, I could see it as a stark black and white animation, but that would push it decidedly push it towards a niche audience – and still would no doubt require too much cash for such a self-consciously cult film to be feasible.
Maybe I’d learn to love any movie adaptation, but I’m quite happy that this is the rare Stephen King which hasn’t made the leap to the big screen, and for now exists in the glorious place between the printed words and our imagination.