There are going to be spoilers ahead for the overarching plot, though not specifics regarding individual characters. I can’t think of any other way to review this book, so consider yourself warned.
Imagine a version of America that is completely obsessed with an annual “game” known as the Long Walk. In this new national pastime, teenage boys from all around the nation put their names into a lottery in hopes of being selected for the Walk. One hundred boys are selected each year to march in the Long Walk, and the last one walking gets the Prize, or anything his heart desires for the rest of his life. And the entire nation watches and places bets on the outcome. People adore the Long Walk, and the Walkers. Doesn’t sound that bad, right?
Well, if a Walker slows below four miles per hour, he gets a warning. If he doesn’t speed up within 30 seconds, he gets another. His third warning is his last, and if he doesn’t pick up the pace after that last warning, he “buys his ticket.” Unfortunately for the boys, that ticket is a bullet. Losing the Walk means losing your life. And there are no breaks during the walk. None. Once you start walking, you walk until you win or you die.
Do you know what the most disturbing part is? No boy goes into the Walk blind. Every single boy that signs up to join the walk knows exactly what to expect. They know that they’ll die if they lose. And yet they volunteer anyway. That’s right, every single participant is a volunteer. No one is ever forced to join the Walk.
Why on earth would anyone willingly sign up for a game that leaves 99 out of its 100 participants dead? Well, teenagers tend to believe they’re invincible, that they’ll live forever. Most of them honestly believe that they’ll win. However, many of them have an ulterior motive; for reasons beyond their conscious grasp, they want to die. This way, they either get their wish or live in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives.
What made this so disturbing for me was the fact that every single participant and spectator understood the rules. No one was surprised by the deaths. The spectators howling their approval from the sidelines and fighting over bloody shoes as mementos was incredibly disturbing. I felt like one of those morbid spectators, as I couldn’t tear my focus away from the Walkers; it was like watching a train wreck. However, in my opinion the most macabre element of the story was the foreknowledge of the Walkers themselves, and the fact that they chose their fate.
This was an insanely dark story, perhaps one of the darkest I’ve ever read. King was right when he said that Bachman was his rainy day alter ego in the introduction to this book. While I still felt that the story was decidedly King in style, the tone was darker and more cynical and hopeless than we usually get from the King of horror. The Long Walk is without a doubt compelling, but its plausibility will keep you up at night.