The Long Walk

The Long Walk
September 25, 2011 Constant Readers

Stephen King, under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, brings us this tale of a murky future where kids walk once a year so that they might win BIG MONEY and WHATEVER THEY WANT, EVER, FOR LIFE. The catch is that they have to maintain four miles per hour at all times (even asleep), and if they fall below too many times, they’re gunned down from a roving tank with deadly accurate soldiers onboard. They eat pastes from special belts and pee walking backwards. Mostly, though, they die.

Andrea: So, from the beginning. I really felt for the moms dropping their kids off.
With their cookies and peanut butter sandwiches.
Pat: Great to hear. Next.
Andrea: OMG
Pat: You may not talk about mothers.
Andrea: What about Percy’s mother? What about Cathy, poor Scramm’s wife?
Pat: OH HEY I JUST THOUGHT OF SOMETHING. Is this a really melodramatic allegory for sending your kids off to college?
Andrea: Or to Vietnam or the army.
Pat: Oh shit. Vietnam may make more sense. BUT the problem with that is that no one in the Long Walk was drafted. Although there is a lottery.
Andrea: But the whole TV lottery thing is kind of like the draft. At least the draft as I understand it from Girl Interrupted when Jared Leto got drafted.
Pat: Except you sign up for the Long Walk. The draft is selective service. Everyone of a certain age is in it. It’s compulsory. The kids who signed up to be in the Long Walk do it of their own accord.
Andrea: So it is more like the army.
Pat: Why do you keep saying the army like it’s some magical part of the military?
Pat: It’s like the military without a draft, yes.

Andrea: The nagging question I had throughout the story was why people would join the Long Walk. Besides the money. I know they danced around that with the death wish and stuff, with everyone telling someone else they had a death wish every five minutes, but still.
Pat: Mine was “Why does the future only have one black dude?”
Andrea: It is ridiculous that out of 100 there was one black dude. No Asians of any kind. No Mexicans.
Pat: Anyway, why wouldn’t they join? You get whatever you want for the rest of your life.
Andrea: And I guess people are overly optimistic about their chances of winning or they don’t think they will get in and then they do and they can’t turn back. Which is what happened to Garraty.
Pat: I just assumed that things were bad enough that a teenager might want to do whatever.
Andrea: Did they have to be 18? I don’t remember if that was mentioned.
Pat: Under 18, I believe…which, shirt factory workers? Already?
Andrea: I know. It was a pajama factory. That seemed so quaint. I mean, they grew to hate each other because she made more money than him? Bitch please. And that one dude Scramm was married with a kid on the way. I GUESS THOSE WERE JUST DIFFERENT TIMES
Pat: It’s alt-history earth, too.
Andrea: I think King does a really good job at hinting at a dystopian society without spelling out everything that was happening. I do not, however, think he did a good job of differentiating all these different guys in the Walk. They all boiled down to like 1 or 2 traits.
Pat: I got the impression that it wasn’t even the United States as we know it. Like the country had fractured into republics
Andrea: What gave you that impression?
Pat: Nothing whatsoever.
Andrea: Snort
Pat: A shadowy Major wouldn’t be able to just run slipshod over a country as big as ours.
There’d be resistance everywhere.
Andrea: That’s true. He wouldn’t be popping up on a tank twirling his mustache
Pat: There was something Battle Royale-ish about it.
Andrea: OMG. When I read Battle Royale, like two months ago, I said it was exactly like The Long Walk and you were like “No.” UGH I HATE YOU.
Pat: You said “exactly,” I said “ish.” School kids: check. Strange guy in control: check. Only one can survive: check. Dystopian future: check. Other than that: no check

Andrea: Let’s talk about the cast of characters. Garraty, foremost.
Pat: He’s a dude. With feet. And he can walk, boy.
Andrea: He seemed boring and annoying. Well, not annoying i guess
Pat: Hello, 16 year old dudes.
Andrea: Just kind of … a nonentity. He was a virgin. That seemed quaint too
Pat: An Everyteen.
Andrea: His dad got squaded. Which makes it seem like there was some rebellious motive for him joining the Walk.
Pat: I still don’t know what “squaded” means. Does that mean he was disappeared? Or made to join the Squads?
Andrea: Right. Spirited away for anti-government sentiment/activity
Pat: There was a point where Garraty made it sound like his dad was still alive.
Andrea: I think it was clear that he doesn’t know where he is/alive or dead/etc.
Pat: I have to be honest, when I was reading the book, it became very, very clear that I had somehow made McVries and Stebbins one person in my head in the years since I last read the book.
Andrea: I still am not really sure what the difference between them is. They were both kinda cryptic weirdos.
Pat: McVries wasn’t cryptic. He was openly funny and awesome.
Andrea: He was too! He tried to jerk Garraty off for no reason
Pat: That wasn’t a real thing. He was joking about how close he and Garraty had become.
Andrea: I thought it was a real thing. Even as a joke it was super creepy.
Pat: Stebbins was quiet, determined, and distant. McVries wasn’t anything near that.
Andrea: Okay. I have them distinguished in my mind now
Pat: The organic way the ones who became friends became friends, the way clear losers in the social ecosystem emerged almost immediately, was pretty awesome. Olson? What a douche.
Andrea: Yeah, Olson sucked.
Pat: But he wasn’t douchey enough to be ostracized, like Klevinger? Klipspringer? Bartowski?
Andrea: Bartowski
Pat: HAHAHA. But Bartowski was the not-dumb kind of bully. Man, when everyone’s shoes started to fall off.
Andrea: UGH I couldn’t even handle when they were talking about blisters and whatnot. I couldn’t stop rubbing my old lady bunions
Pat: Olson walking in his bare feet.
Andrea: And the way they all lost weight so fast.
Pat: White hair. Did you get the whole Scramm and the one Native American dude just sitting down together?
Andrea: They made some kind of weird spiritual connection, probably fueled by exhaustion

Pat: Was there anything about the conceit of the Walk itself that you didn’t buy?
Andrea: Hmm… I remember being a little skeptical about the fact that after that one soldier got shot, they replaced him almost immediately without stopping the Walk.
Pat: That’s a ludicrous thing to be at all skeptical about.
Andrea: Well, was there anything YOU didn’t buy?
Pat: Not really. Other than the fact that these kids walk, what, three hundred-some miles, some of them doing it mostly in socks. Four miles an hour? FASTER THAN YOU THINK. Have you ever tried walking four miles an hour?
Andrea: Nope. Have you? I asked Tim if that was fast, I forget what he said though.
Pat: I would have no way of knowing I was walking that fast. Unless I had GPS on my phone or something.
Andrea: Right. Which of course no one does

Andrea: Who was your favorite/least favorite walker?
Pat: Bartowski. Easily.
Andrea: He was your fave or least fave?
Pat: My least favorite, of course. My favorite was McVries.
Andrea: I am surprised how little I have to say about this book despite how much I love it. Is it because I am overly familiar with it?
Pat: There’s not a lot to complain about or make fun of, which I think is mostly what our style is.
Andrea: What did you think about the Garraty/Jan relationship? And the conceit of having him meet her and his mother along the road.
Pat: I thought it was sensibly pedestrian, and he was aware of how much meaning he was just injecting into it so he’d have something to walk for.
Andrea: Right. Which seems really self-aware for a 16-year-old.
Pat: I think we underestimate and misremember how clever we were and how smart 16 year olds are.

Pat: How about the owe-you-one thing going on between Garraty and McVries?
Andrea: I think it was a little contrived to add action and tension and whoozywhatzits
but also to cement their friendship.
Pat: I do not agree! McVries is ANGRY that Garraty helps him.
Andrea: Explain
Pat: it… I mean he was angry.
Andrea: When was he angry?
Pat: McVries starts screaming at the halftrack, yelling about the Major buggering his mother.
And buggering himself. And Garraty keeps him from getting killed. Later, he saved Garraty when he had the fit of hysterics. Garraty helps him again. I don’t remember when.
Andrea: and he helps Garraty again when he drags him away from his mother and Jan
Pat: Yeah. Which was pretty awesome. It might be my favorite scene.

Pat: The ending happens before you really know it, which I think was the point. Garraty doesn’t know it. Apparently there is some discussion that the dark figure he starts running towards is Randall Flagg.
Andrea: I have heard that too. SO LET US SPECULATE. What happens to Garraty after the Walk? I mean, yeah yeah he keeps walking but obviously he is gonna pass out eventually
so then what?
Pat: It doesn’t matter, does it? He’s gone.
Pat: Down in that place McVries talks about. It ends the best possible way it could. You can’t have the all-wrapped-up ending every time. It’s SK, for fuck’s sake. He loves ambiguity. HARTFORD? HOPE? COME ON.
Andrea: I am not debating that it is a great ending. I am simply speculating
Pat: I think knowing what happens in any way would ruin it. Most likely, he will collapse and die.
Andrea: Do you think that the long rumored movie will ever come to fruition?
Pat: No. I don’t know why. I could make that movie for twenty dollars and a pack of Twizzlers. Apparently Frank Darabont owns the rights.
Andrea: Maybe now that he is fired from the mediocre Walking Dead he will get on it
Pat: IT ISN’T MEDIOCRE. The finale was just tame.
Andrea: Casting?
Pat: I’m not casting this one because I don’t know shit about under-18 actors.
Andrea: I pictured Jan as Sissy Spacek’s daughter, who played Kristy in the Babysitter’s Club. Make of that what you will
Pat: I said I’m not casting this motherfucker!
Andrea: I AM JUST TELLING YOU WHAT I PICTURED. This person is not the right age or anything. You are unusually contrary today.
Pat: I AM NOT.
Andrea: Snort

Pat: So what else? Were you satisfied? As happy with it, happier, less happy than you remembered?
Andrea: I was as happy with it as remembered, though I think it would not have been as mind-blowing if it were not one of the first pieces of dystopic fiction that I read. What about you?
How do you think it stacks up to King’s other works and/or the other Bachman books?
Pat: It’s probably the best thing we’ve read so far. Rage is good, but this actually does exactly what it did to me back when I first read it.
Andrea: Which is what? Boner? No way is it better than The Stand or Carrie.
Pat: It’s better than The Stand. It’s a better book.
Andrea: We need to do one of those cloud things for this blog and the biggest word is gonna be boner.
Pat: Hell yeah it’ll be the biggest. I was about to ask if anyone got a boner on the Long Walk, but we know Garraty did.
Pat: Boners are important to like the majority of humans. Think about it. Boners are a matter of concern for three out of four sexualities. BONERS.

Andrea: The Dead Zone is next. That is one of those books I swear I read but have no memory of.
Pat: I have never read it. I have seen the movie and the pilot of the TV show.
Andrea: Is this the first one that you haven’t read?
Pat: Are you retarded?
Pat: The first book we read was the first book I’d never read.
Andrea: OKAY WELL THAT WAS LIKE TWO YEARS AGO. I’m only one woman.