The Long Walk - Stephen King If this book does not make you feel physical pain, I don't know what will.

This isn't a book about killer clowns or haunted hotels. It's not a Hunger Games type of book, despite the "game show" element of the Long Walk, nor is it a world attached to any tower, Dark or not. This book is in-your-face and physical, while simultaneously never losing that dreamy, philosophic quality of existenstial fiction.

The premise of the book is very simple: Every year, 100 boys enter a contest called the Long Walk, and the winner gets all his heart desires. Each contestant has to maintain a pace of 4 miles per hour or more, or else he gets a warning. If the boy who gets the warning can keep walking 4 miles per hour or faster for the next hour, the warning is revoked. However, if the boy collects three warnings, the next time he slows down, he's shot in the head and out of the game.

I love this book, but it's really hard to communicate what I think it's trying to relate. As I'm writing this review, I'm desperately trying to organize my jumbled thoughts. The best I could do is to divide the book into two sections that broadly describe which parts of this book stood out to me the most: The Deeper Meaning (as I see it) & How it's Done and The People.

The Deeper Meaning (as I see it) & How It's Done

The physical aspect of the journey immediately comes to the spotlight. You think you can outwalk 99 boys? Well, despite the 100% chance of someone actually doing it, you're 99% going to be the one to die either from exhaustion or carelessness.

The story's downward spiral from the optimism of the first 10 hours to the torturous hell that is the last 10 hours is slow, relentless, and ultimately certain. Some of the boys' death were incredibly cringe worthy, not because their death was bizarre or fantastic, but because it's so damn relatable. I can't relate to a woman running away from her ghost-possessed husband as much as I can imagine my legs giving out after hours of walking in my own blood and pus.

But what's extraordinary about this novel is despite its physicality and its real grit, it's very spiritual and contemplative. Ultimately, this book questions what it means to live through the eyes of one boy (and 99 others) who are walking right into the arms of death.

As the boys break down physically, their minds deconstruct past the point of madness until they become lifeless, soulless automatons. I think it's at this point, when the boys are broken beyond exhaustion, that King really questions the value of life in the midst of such suffering, and how we push beyond sanity to sustain life. King doesn't point at authority or paternal figures to place blame on how extraordinary and torturous this desire to live can be. It's the walker who chooses to go on the Long Walk that, in the end, leads to death, no matter what we do.

And life isn't nice. It won't slow down for you. Got blisters on your feet? Tough. Can't climb that hill after walking +24 hours? You'd better. Got to take a shit? If it takes longer than three warnings, you're going to die with your pants around your ankles.

It seems, in this light, that life is much crueler than death.

The People

Ah, the other great part about this book--and what makes this book so amazing!

Unlike many of King's works, this book is not atmospheric. With the exception of comments about the weather and the terrain (obvious factors to consider when walking quite literally until death), the entire narrative is solely focused on the Long Walk itself and the people who are a part of it. I was hesitant to shelf this book under "dystopian" because I don't really know if it's a dystopia. All I know is that the Major, whoever he is, seems to be in charge (how much, I don't know) and the Long Walk is something celebrated by everyone who doesn't partake in it.

All we get to know is Garraty, the main character in the story, and the other boys he meets in the Long Walk. None of these characters are forgettable. Garraty, McVries, and even Barkovitch are some of the most developed, fleshed out characters that I've had the pleasure of reading. The boys' interactions, teetering between the desire for the other to die and genuine camaraderie, were incredibly complex and touching. Whenever I read about a gunshot, I desperately hoped that it wasn't one of the boys that I knew because they were so real and likeable.

Amid the hardship and torture, something about this book was very sincere, and despite what King may have intended, characters like McVries and Garraty made the journey extraordinarily...enjoyable, if not more emotionally painful.

This book is something that will always remain in my mind. Not only was the writing engaging and visceral, but it struck a chord deep within me. Some people may not enjoy the book. It's raw, painful, and depressing. But on the other hand, it challenges, breaks, and strips bare the human soul, and ultimately the sympathy such an act invokes is an intense experience.

5.0 stars and highly recommended!