I consider The Long Walk to be one of Stephen King's finest books, and that's saying a lot because I really like his work*. This dystopian work was written in 1979 and is one of the most chilling novels I've ever read. The premise is that 100 teenage boys start a walk, and the winner is the last man standing, one of the prizes being that you live to survive the race. There is no set distance, but if you stop walking you die, if you incur a penalty three time penalties you die, there is only one survivor. It's a horribly simple idea, and it's this single mindedness that is so chilling; there is no stepping away from this procession, you are with these boys as nearly all of them walk towards their deaths.
The story is told through the eyes of Ray Garrity, one of the competitors, we are introduced to the other boys via friendships he makes and gossip that trickles down through the line. I found myself getting invested in other characters, rooting for them, and then it would hit home that there is only one survivor. This idea is made sharply poignant as various boys talk to each other about winning, in some ways blocking out the fact that for this to happen their comrades must perish. The huge truth of their near certain death is almost blinding, they can't talk about it, but they can think of nothing else; hope and despair are clung to with equal measure. Because of the omnipresence of death in this story we are forced to look at the futility of their struggle against all the odds, and question is it worth it. It's like King has boiled down the essence of our own daily struggles and our own inevitable death. In their blisters, aching legs, and cramping muscles we can see our own travails through life.
It's the small details that are most shocking in the book, after a short while you accept the horrifying premise that 99 boys will die for the sake of a televised competition. But the idea that they can't stop to take a crap seems like a cruel and needless punishment, that they might die because they took too long to relieve themselves, it brings a whole new meaning to stage fright!
I recently watched The Hunger Games(which I've yet to read) and was struck by the similarity to The Long Walk; a gameshow where teenagers compete for their lives, survival of the fittest, retaining humanity in an inhuman fight for your life. I'd love for this to be made into a film, but I'd hate to see it go the way of so many other of King's books like The Langoliers, Dreamcatcher, and The Tommyknockers, which were all truly awful.
I would highly recommend this book, it one of my favourite reads of this year so far, it was one of those books that I slowed down nearing the end as I didn't want to finish it.
*A somewhat uncool thing to say on front of people who consider themselves serious readers, but I find mostly they've never read his work and just him on the fact that he writes about the supernatural.