“You symbolize all the fears of this dark and broken time. It wasn’t all show and audience-packing out there, Richards. They hate your guts. Could you feel it?” – ‘The Running Man’, p. 56
Since my last reading year only included two books by Stephen King (picture my surprised and flabbergasted face when I realized this), for this year I’ve pledged to read more of the master of horror. So I chose “The Running Man”, which was written by King using his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The plot sounded incredibly like King and was praised as a more brutal, less fantasy-dystopian version of ‘The Hunger Games’, although I do not particularly like that comparison.
In a broken world not too different from our own, watching people getting killed on a TV show just for fun is no longer just an option, but an obligation. Where the air is getting thinner for the poor, the ones who slave, the ones who take part in humiliating and life threatening TV shows only to get some money to survive, to feed their families. The newest craze produced by the Games Network is the show ‘The Running Man’. The chosen participants are being hunted – if they are caught, they will die. For every hour that passes in which they are still alive, their families get paid. The longest anyone survived this monstrous hunt in which anybody can partake is eight days…
The plot leaves the reader breathless, the language is rough and intense, and behind it all you sense the great imagination of Stephen King. Until now, I have loved each and every book by the author, some more than others, but it has always been undying fan-love for me. That is until this book came along, and I can’t quite put my finger on it why that is. What has always intrigued me about Kings writing is that he tells stories that play a lot with what people fear – not exactly monsters in the typical sense, but fears like loss, inner demons, darkness, loneliness, the worst anyone can be. And although King describes the worst of human nature in “The Running Man”, it didn’t sweep me off my feet as I’m used to. After I had some time to process this (way too dramatic, I know, I know! But it just felt so weird to me to not LOVE a book he has written) I came to the conclusion that the book was still very enjoyable to read and a really shocking one indeed, so much, that it made my skin break out in gooseflesh from time to time.
The monsters in this book are people themselves. Greedy people who watch others suffer, who want to believe those manipulated stories about the participants, want to believe that those being hunted are monsters who deserve to die. The ability to picture the way people tear each other apart just because they are allowed to is more than uncanny and I applaud King for that. Also, let me include a sentence that really send shivers down my back because the description is so on point:
“Claustrophobia suddenly filled his mouth with flannel.” – p. 81
Who would imagine claustrophobia to feel like this let alone to describe it in a way that makes readers get it, feel it and fear it all in a matter of seconds. How much power an author has with what he writes, that he can make me feel this agonizing emotion of being stuck in a tight place from way back in time and from across the globe. And this is what I deeply adore about his writing – sentences like those.
I think that this is one of the novels where King used his pseudonym to experiment with his writing, and I love that he did. I for myself can say that this particular book was definitely not his best (at least for me, that is), but it was still very, very good and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested experiencing another side of Stephen King’s writing, with a hint of King in every other sentence.
Author: Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
Title: The Running Man
Press: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of Publication: 1982
[Genre: Science Fiction / Horror]