Friday, May 30, 2008

Forgotten Books

Patti Abbott recently asked me to think of a book that I consider "forgotten," and to write about it. One book instantly came to mind. And even though the author is hardly an unknown, I consider this book an unheralded masterpiece. So here's my Friday forgotten book:

Simply put, this book captivated me growing up. When I dreamed of being a screenwriter and director, this was the book I dreamed of adapting. Written while King was still a college freshman and published years later under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, the story is deceptively simple. It centers around a young man, Ray Garraty, who has entered the country's premier sporting event, The Long Walk. The walk consists of 100 participants, all young men in their late teens to early twenties. The rules are simple. You must continue walking. You are given skimpy provisions and no bathroom breaks. If you fall below four miles an hour, you are warned. After three warnings, you are killed.

The last man alive wins.

All along the Walk's hundreds of miles, spectators turn out to cheer the entrant from their state. Garraty himself is "Maine's Own." Perched alongside the trail are tanks and caravans with heavily-armed soldiers. Most of the spectators are there to cheer. Many are there, however, in the hopes that a boy will fall below 4 mph for the last time in front of them.

The book is harrowing in that it both serves as a horrific harbinger of the reality-obsessed world in which we've become (the book was published in 1979--ironically the year I was born), and a fascinating study of human nature. It is a a mirror of the all but anonymous life of young men, and the bloodthirsty nature of our society.

It is fascinating to watch as these 100 young men--all strangers at first--form tight bonds despite knowing that all but one of them face will die by the end of the race. At first they are enemies, hoping to see their nemeses fall in the name of sport. Hoping to see them fall because that means one less person to outlast. But as more and more die at the hands of the brutal military overseeing the Walk, the more solidarity the boys develop, the more defiant they become. We flash back to various points in Ray's life. His mother, his father, the girl he loves but is too tentative to express his feelings toward. These remind us that despite the fact that we only get to know a handful of the participants in the race, each of the boys, like Garraty, has a home. A family who loves them. A family that will almost certainly see them die.

The ending is simply harrowing and heart-breaking. And though I've been a King fan my whole life, this is the book I remember most vividly. This is the book that haunted me most after turning the last page. And though King is hardly a writer that will ever be forgotten, this book deserves to sit at the pinnacle of anything he's ever created.



Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I read the other Bachman book, never this one. Looks good. Thanks for playing.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

SK's The Running Man would be my pick. That story was so incredibly good. We won't even talk about the #%@$* movie. Grr.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Ah, the "cleaning out the closet syndrome" wherein every rejected MS suddenly becomes a hot propperty once the author makes it big.

If it was so bad that it got rejected a million times, why foist it on the reading public? If it's really that good, then why didn't the industry publish it when it was first queried?

The more I see of this business, the more I get that being published has very little to do with quality of the writing, JMO.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Kendra said...

I reread this book two months ago. I originally read it in college (more than a decade ago) and recalled the amazing characters and suspense of the story.

What I couldn't remember was how it ended. Two months ago I found out why: I can't stand the end. This time and originally. All that build-up and suspense then the story abruptly stops.

Other than that small fact, excellent, excellent book.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Stuart Neville said...

I read this years ago as part of the Bachman Books omnibus. I agree, it's an over-looked masterpiece. I'd rate it up there with the best of King. It's lean and nasty, but also thought-provoking.

To address Josie's point - It is a dark and harrowing book, even for King, and I imagine publishers might have been wary of its commercial potential. It's hardly popcorn stuff. Once King was established as a publishing phenomenon, however, the commercial appeal would no longer have been a question. In terms of quality, this book demonstrates King's unique ability to meld a high-concept premise to skillful, heartfelt storytelling - the recipe for his extraordinary success - but in a less shiny, more cynical package.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Jason Pinter said...

In King's introduction to the Bachman books (this being one of them), he said these were published under the Bachman pseudonym specifically to see if his earlier works could fly without being considered "Stephen King" books. (also keep in mind THE LONG WALK was published in 1979. King was certainly on the rise, but he wasn't yet STEPHEN KING. I mean the guy was only 32, hardly the age when authors start cleaning out their closet)

These four books--THE LONG WALK, ROAD WORK, RAGE and THE RUNNING MAN--were published as paperback originals with no marketing support, and King. According to King THE LONG WALK sold about 28,000 copies when it first came out, and 280,000 when it was discovered they were the same person.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I had forgotten all about this! I remember this book. I read it 100 years ago, it seems. Great choice.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

Oh, this si my FAVORITE work by King. I read it years and years ago, in one of his collections. I've read it over and over since then. It gives me chills.

And I love the ending. ;-)

3:58 PM  

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