The Stephen King Marathon – The Running Man

This is another of the Bachman books, and one that I was crazy excited to reread.
runningman1I remember thinking of the Running Man when I read the Hunger Games for the first time, and upon this reread I wondered if Suzanne Collins was inspired by this book when she came up with the idea. It definitely feels like the Hunger Games could have been an homage to the Running Man.

I read this book in only four sessions, it’s so intense and fast paced. Right from the get go, stuff is happening, and in typical Bachman style, it’s pretty fucked up. Dystopian future, televised game shows that pretty much guarantee death, and an Orwell-esque government. There’s something wonderful about a character living in poverty totally sticking it to the man by playing the man’s game but playing it their own way.

I honestly can’t sing enough praises for this book. It is fucking fantastic. I kind of want to watch the movie now, although I really just don’t understand how they figured Arnold Schwarzenegger was a good fit for Richards. I was picturing somebody more… I don’t know, not Arnold-y.

For The Dark Tower Fans: Nothing really, except for King’s beautiful writing.

Fear Factor: This book isn’t all that scary, unless you start to think about what it would be like if our world ended up like the one in the book. If killing people on live television was a thing, and humanity just ate it all up. It’s really fucked up to think about. That’s what King does as Bachman, though, he really makes the reader examine the human condition, and how deep our depravity can go.

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The Stephen King Marathon – Roadwork

So, this book took me almost a year to read.

Dun dun dun! The 80s had the best book covers.

Dun dun dun! The 80s had the best book covers.

As with any of the Bachman books, this book follows a man sliding into complete lunacy due to the fact that the city wants to build a freeway on top of his subdivision, and he just can’t seem to let go of his house. He’s messed up because his son died, and in putting off moving out of the house even though the city is breathing down his neck, he ruins his marriage, his job, and his sanity.

I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one. One would think that because it took me so long to get through it that it sucks, but every time I picked it back up again it felt like coming home. There’s nothing quite like curling up with King, his words are like a warm blanket of imagination that just sucks you into a cocoon of awesomeness.

The whole time Bart is going nuts, I’m tumbling into insanity with him, watching him be a witty motherfucker even when he knows that he’s hitting rock bottom. He’s likeable even though he’s a complete antihero, which King is fantastic at, that is making characters so flawed and thus relatable. I found myself actually kind of rooting for Bart, wondering what he was actually going to do and where he was going to end up.

And then… I guess I just found it a bit anticlimactic. King has a knack for ending things just the way that they’re supposed to end, and I know that it was naive of me to think that Bart was going to just fuck up some machinery and then skip off to Las Vegas and party it up with Olivia while trying to find himself. But I feel like it ended too fast. For him to go out the way he did… and then nothing really changed anything.

That’s reality, I guess. One man in a billion suffers, goes out with a bang, and the world moves on. Depressing, but that’s Bachman. Nothing supernatural here, Freddy, just the human mind, which can be scarier than any ghost or evil clown.

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For the Dark Tower fans: Nothing really, except the Bart on the cover above this sentence kinda looks like Roland.

Fear Factor: I would call this more of a psychological discomfort.

“[…]there’s a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters.” -Bart Dawes, Roadwork, Richard Bachman

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The Stephen King Marathon – The Long Walk

HOW LONG IS IT?!

HOW LONG IS IT?!

A lot of people have said over the years that Stephen King is the master of spinning a tale taking place in one spot and making it interesting somehow. I would say that King is good at it, but Richard Bachman is the master. Rage was intense, and the Long Walk is just as if not more.

The basic premise is that every year, kids from all over America apply to be in the Long Walk. 100 get in, and they all start walking at the same time, armed only with a toolbelt of food and water. If any of them fall below 4 miles an hour three times, they ‘buy their ticket’, which actually means getting shot in the head. They keep going until there is only one left walking. Or likely trudging along all fucked up, because I don’t know about you, but I’d have probably bought a ticket within the first few hours.

This book was published in 1979, long before any of these new young adult dystopian novels of our time were even thought of. Even good ol’ Battle Royale didn’t come out until 1999. We live in a culture now that loves to imagine sending our children to kill each other, but I would be willing to bet that the Long Walk was pretty jarring in the seventies.

The story follows Garraty, who is the only one out of the 100 who was born and raised in Maine, where the Walk starts. He makes a few friends, enemies, and alliances, but mostly he learns about himself as fatigue sets in, physical and mental. You learn about the characters as they start to break down.

In classic King style, the book ends with Garraty not even realizing he’s won and pretty much insane. So you never really find out anything beyond this little clip of his life. Not a whole lot before, and nothing after. You never find out who the Major really is, and why the Long Walk exists. Which is frustrating, but the story is so good that it’s okay. I feel like King was just trying to put down a glimpse into this kid’s world, and at that he succeeded.

Side note, there are no girls in the Long Walk. I don’t know if the competition is closed to females, or maybe it’s not and the girls are too smart to enter? (Ha ha!) You have to admit that entering a contest where you have a 1 in 100 chance of not getting shot in the head is pretty stupid. Obviously these kids have some kind of damage, one of them comments that they all entered because underneath it all they want to die.

Let’s say you trained for it, and walked every day for hours and hours, maybe even did a few trial runs where you walked for four days straight without changing shoes or stopping to piss, let alone taking a dump. So you’re physically ready to walk at 4 miles an hour for as long as it takes to win. You’d better make sure your immune system is good too, because you don’t know what elements you’re going to face. The kid that was the #1 favourite and most physically suited to win died of pneumonia on the third day. So, there’s that.

Are you mentally ready to watch 99 other people die? Because that’s how you win. You have to watch them all deteriorate and wither away until somebody puts them out of their misery with a bullet.

So I guess if you can deal with all of that and still be standing and sane afterwards, then it makes sense to do it. But of course these are all teenage boys. They weren’t prepared, though some of them were cocky enough to think they were. It’s so fucked up. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But that is what Bachman is intensely good at.

For the Dark Tower Fans: Nothing really. Unless you, like I, suspect that the Major is actually Randall Flagg.

Fear Factor: This story isn’t necessarily scary. I found it rather uncomfortable. It’s that subtle disquiet that King is oh-so-good at. It’s fucked up, and it leaves you shaking your head and feeling like the human race is kind of shitty.

“You don’t know,” McVries said. “You’re dying and you don’t know why.”
“It’s not important after you’re dead.”
“Yeah, maybe.”

-The Long Walk, Richard Bachman, 1979

I also just wanted to point out that in the reprint I have, at the beginning there is an essay by King called ‘The Importance of Being Bachman’, in which he explains why he had a pseudonym and why it sucked really bad when he got found out. It’s really interesting, and you can read it here.

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The Stephen King Marathon – Rage

This is the first Richard Bachman book on my list, and one I’ve never read, so I was in for a real treat. And, after reading it, I kind of understand why King decided to publish this one under a pseudonym. It’s about a kid that decides to shoot a couple teachers and hold his class hostage. And it’s severely fucked up.

Now of course, nothing can ever be that simple. The kid, Charlie, doesn’t really know what he wants out of holding his classmates hostage. So, while police and school staff try desperately (and fail) to communicate properly with him via intercom, he basically just makes everyone talk to each other.

And as these kids, Charlie included, hash out their lives, and their problems, it’s actually kind of amazing. I’m not saying that killing teachers and holding kids at gunpoint is a good idea, but I wouldn’t be against sitting a grade eight class down in a room together for a few hours to share their stories.

About three quarters of the way through Rage, these kids are understanding each other. The mean ones are actually feeling bad because they’ve just heard the horrible life stories of the kids they tortured when they were younger. The pretty girls are taking the outcast girl under their wing because they want to help her have better self esteem. Awareness and remorse, not often seen in teenagers.

Of course, at the end one of the kids still doesn’t want to participate, and the rest of them attack him while Charlie watches. So all of that wonderful reflection and togetherness ends up turning them into a mob, which is not good. And Charlie ends up in a mental institution, where he is writing the story from.

In any case, all 111 pages made me extremely uncomfortable, so I can say that King did his job here. I was confused, agitated, and interested all at the same time. Which means, yes, good story. Nice story? Really, really not. I went back and forth from feeling sorry for Charlie and not understanding what the fuck his problem was. He’s a seriously messed up kid.

For the Dark Tower Fans: Aside from the kids being very ‘Charyou Tree’ at the end, I was too distracted by the fucked-up-ness of the narrative to even really think about other worlds. Maybe that’s exactly what the low men want us to do.

Fear Factor: Scary? No. Edgy discomfort? Definitely.

“In another [dream] my mother was giving me an enema and I was begging her to hurry because Joe was outside waiting for me. Only, Joe was there, looking over her shoulder, and he had his hands on her breasts while she worked the little red rubber bulb that was pumping soapsuds into my ass.” –Rage, Richard Bachman, 1977

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