Set in a kind of alternate America, young men apply and are chosen to take place in an annual competition known as The Long Walk. Although Kind does not set out the rules concretely at the start of the novel, it becomes clear to the reader that this is a walk to the death. The last man standing wins some kind of unimaginable prize – assuming that anyone really survives at all. If you cannot keep up the pace or try to escape, you are shot.
Our main character, Garraty doesn’t really have any powerful reason for walking – in fact many of the walkers don’t. Some are lured in by the promise of the prize, whilst others attribute it to a self-destructive tendency. As they walk and begin to realise what they have signed on for, all their illusions about themselves and about life are stripped away – as are their illusions about the walk itself. They mock and berate the spectators for revelling in their torture (King clearly supports this, beginning every chapter with a quote from an American Game Show).
Despite the open ending – which really disappointed me – this was a fascinating study of human nature, and a different kind of dystopian fiction. Highly recommended.