The Student
Review
Lockdown Literature Challenge: Stephen King’s ‘The Long Walk’

I am a reader who has an obsessive need for finding the perfect music for anything I read. I need another dimension to the story, a glimpse into my subconscious associations. A year ago, upon my first read of Stephen King’s The Long Walk, I became captured by James Newton Howard’s song I’m Listening. It is from the soundtrack of I am Legend, and I chose it not for the song’s title or because there is any correlation between the two plots, but because I am reminded of King’s story through the solid picture the music conjures within me. Ever since I’ve been aware of this track, the picture has been clear: It includes a highway on a prairie, asphalt-melting heat, a Soviet-style Lada, combat boots and denim shorts; everything vibrating in red and unnaturally still. 

This scene is worthily matched by a violent and suffocating novel, written by King before he became the master-of-horror we now know him to be. It is about a walking contest voluntarily entered by one hundred boys, who, if stop for any reason, are executed on the spot by military officers in front of the crowd’s eyes. Nobody is actively hunting them – rules are rules, but their death is primarily their responsibility. 

I immediately felt it was brilliant. It drops crumbs of information to help the reader construct an image of King’s warped society, but you have to pay very close attention to piece them together. It effectively creates an artificial space which crystallises the essence of those locked inside; stretching the limits of human endurance. This coming-of-age story depicts relationships, morals, values, perspectives and sexualities as fluid, and shaped by the influence of others. 

Upon recently rereading King’s story, I played I’m Listening on a loop, and found that it carried the very same emotional and visual experience from my first read. Yet for the first time, I paid attention to not only the track itself, but its title. After all, this story is about listening, due to confinement within a linear but static space and being unable to escape those around. 

In our current circumstance, we are also confined to a limited space. We have to face each other and ourselves more than ever, because we simply cannot look away. At the same time, we are listening to the news differently – we pay more attention, we are instinctively more analytical, and we see clearer than before. I’m Listening was my entrance into this chaotic and threatening dystopia; into the red-vibrating air. As our reality resembles the confinement of The Long Walk, we are listening in a way we haven’t before.

Image: aiddy via flickr