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.