I saw my latest read when I was browsing PBS for books. It sounded quite interesting, and I was able to pick up a paperback book that contained four novels written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman.
Early in his career, King's publisher was concerned that he would oversaturate the market if he published more than one or two books a year. Thus, King convinced his publisher to release these novels straight to paperback as a way of increasing his publication number without diluting the King "brand" (see Wikipedia for more info). It was also an experiment on King's part to determine if his success had been due to luck or his skill as a writer (a question that he says remains open to discussion in his introduction entitled "Why I Was Bachman").
'The Long Walk' has a compelling premise: In a near-future America controlled by a dictator ("The Major"), a yearly race is held where 100 boys must walk for as long as possible. If someone falls below the speed of 4 miles per hour, he is tagged with a warning. Warnings are removed after an hour, but if four warnings are accrued, the unfortunate contestant is "ticketed." Ticketing results in immediate elimination from the Walk in the form of a fatal gunshot by the squad of guards constantly monitoring the race. The winner of the Walk wins the "Prize" which is described as anything the person wants for the rest of their life.
The novel follows Ray Garraty, a 16-year-old boy, who quickly forms a loose association with a number of other boys. As the Walk progresses, we learn bits and pieces about each boys' circumstances and motivations. Why each boy decided to participate in the Long Walk is a thread that runs throughout the story. Much of the hopelessness of the novel stems from the fact that while a few of the boys had concrete reasons for paricipating, for most it seemed to be a decision without much thought. This leaves them with the realization that their lives are being spent for no good purpose.
I found the story to be quite tense, and the first few ticketings really jolted me. But like the walkers, these incidents became more and more mundane as the Walk wore on. Overall, the circumstances and ideas presented in the novel were more than a little disturbing to me, but I can definitely recommend this tense, tight thriller.