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The Running Man: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – April 19, 2016
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
. . . Minus 100
and COUNTING . . .
She was squinting at the thermometer in the white light coming through the window. Beyond her, in the drizzle, the other highrises in Co-Op City rose like the gray turrets of a penitentiary. Below, in the airshaft, clotheslines flapped with ragged wash. Rats and plump alley cats circulated through the garbage.
She looked at her husband. He was seated at the table, staring up at the Free-Vee with steady, vacant concentration. He had been watching it for weeks now. It wasn’t like him. He hated it, always had. Of course, every Development apartment had one—it was the law—but it was still legal to turn them off. The Compulsory Benefit Bill of 2021 had failed to get the required two-thirds majority by six votes. Ordinarily they never watched it. But ever since Cathy had gotten sick, he had been watching the big-money giveaways. It filled her with sick fear.
Behind the compulsive shrieking of the half-time announcer narrating the latest newsie flick, Cathy’s flu-hoarsened wailing went on and on.
“How bad is it?” Richards asked.
“Not so bad.”
“Don’t shit me.”
“It’s a hundred and four.”
He brought both fists down on the table. A plastic dish jumped into the air and clattered down.
“We’ll get a doctor. Try not to worry so much. Listen—” She began to babble frantically to distract him; he had turned around and was watching the Free-Vee again. Half-time was over, and the game was on again. This wasn’t one of the big ones, of course, just a cheap daytime come-on called Treadmill to Bucks. They accepted only chronic heart, liver, or lung patients, sometimes throwing in a crip for comic relief. Every minute the contestant could stay on the treadmill (keeping up a steady flow of chatter with the emcee), he won ten dollars. Every two minutes the emcee asked a Bonus Question in the contestant’s category (the current pal, a heart-murmur from Hackensack, was an American history buff) which was worth fifty dollars. If the contestant, dizzy, out of breath, heart doing fantastic rubber acrobatics in his chest, missed the question, fifty dollars was deducted from his winnings and the treadmill was speeded up.
“We’ll get along. Ben. We will. Really. I . . . I’ll . . .”
“You’ll what?” He looked at her brutally. “Hustle? No more, Sheila. She’s got to have a real doctor. No more block midwife with dirty hands and whiskey breath. All the modern equipment. I’m going to see to it.”
He crossed the room, eyes swiveling hypnotically to the Free-Vee bolted into one peeling wall above the sink. He took his cheap denim jacket off its hook and pulled it on with fretful gestures.
“No! No, I won’t . . . won’t allow it. You’re not going to—”
“Why not? At worst you can get a few oldbucks as the head of a fatherless house. One way or the other you’ll have to see her through this.”
She had never really been a handsome woman, and in the years since her husband had not worked she had grown scrawny, but in this moment she looked beautiful . . . imperious. “I won’t take it. I’d rather sell the govie a two-dollar piece of tail when he comes to the door and send him back with his dirty blood money in his pocket. Should I take a bounty on my man?”
He turned on her, grim and humorless, clutching something that set him apart, an invisible something for which the Network had ruthlessly calculated. He was a dinosaur in this time. Not a big one, but still a throwback, an embarrassment. Perhaps a danger. Big clouds condense around small particles.
He gestured at the bedroom. “How about her in an unmarked pauper’s grave? Does that appeal to you?”
It left her with only the argument of insensate sorrow. Her face cracked and dissolved into tears.
“Ben, this is just what they want, for people like us, like you—”
“Maybe they won’t take me,” he said, opening the door. “Maybe I don’t have whatever it is they look for.”
“If you go now, they’ll kill you. And I’ll be here watching it. Do you want me watching that with her in the next room?” She was hardly coherent through her tears.
“I want her to go on living.” He tried to close the door, but she put her body in the way.
“Give me a kiss before you go, then.”
He kissed her. Down the hall, Mrs. Jenner opened her door and peered out. The rich odor of corned beef and cabbage, tantalizing, maddening, drifted to them. Mrs. Jenner did well—she helped out at the local discount drug and had an almost uncanny eye for illegal-card carriers.
“You’ll take the money?” Richards asked. “You won’t do anything stupid?”
“I’ll take it,” she whispered. “You know I’ll take it.”
He clutched her awkwardly, then turned away quickly, with no grace, and plunged down the crazily slanting, ill-lighted stairwell.
She stood in the doorway, shaken by soundless sobs, until she heard the door slam hollowly five flights down, and then she put her apron up to her face. She was still clutching the thermometer she had used to take the baby’s temperature.
Mrs. Jenner crept up softly and twitched the apron. “Dearie,” she whispered, “I can put you onto black market penicillin when the money gets here . . . real cheap . . . good quality—”
“Get out!” she screamed at her.
Mrs. Jenner recoiled, her upper lip rising instinctively away from the blackened stumps of her teeth. “Just trying to help,” she muttered, and scurried back to her room.
Barely muffled by the thin plastiwood, Cathy’s wails continued. Mrs. Jenner’s Free-Vee blared and hooted. The contestant on Treadmill to Bucks had just missed a Bonus Question and had had a heart attack simultaneously. He was being carried off on a rubber stretcher while the audience applauded.
Upper lip rising and falling metronomically, Mrs. Jenner wrote Sheila Richards’s name down in her notebook. “We’ll see,” she said to no one. “We’ll just see, Mrs. Smell-So-Sweet.”
She closed the notebook with a vicious snap and settled down to watch the next game.
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I have been trying to like King for years, with little success. But I think I have found my way to him through Bachman, who (I suppose) allowed King to not be King for a bit. There is the usual awkward dragging in the last third, typical of King (what is it with him and endings?), but it is much less jarring and problematic here. I was not thrown out of the story by it, thankfully - which allowed me to receive the 11th hour sucker punch right on cue. Superb story... SO much better than the clownish movie that was ostensibly made from it.
Ben Richards is a troublemaker in the eyes of the law. A man who has protested against the lack of heath regulation for low level workers and has been black marked by employers as a result. Ben is married and has managed to have a child, Cathy, despite working in a factory where he was exposed to radiation for years. Now, however, the Richards are struggling to put food on the table and little Cathy is deathly sick with influenza. There is no money for a doctor. Ben's wife, Sheila, turns tricks as a prostitute to obtain some badly needed funds, much to her husband's anguish. In desperation, Ben decides to apply for one of the game shows.
Ben's application is successful and, identified early on in the application process, as a troublemaker, he is allocated to The Running Man. No-one has ever survived this game which requires the contestant to run from the hunters who are out to kill him. The public can join in the game and win but calling in sightings of the contestant to the television studio. No-one is on the runners side which makes surviving extremely difficult. Ben soon discovers that the game is also rigged and the two video cassettes he has to mail to the television studio every day are provided to the hunters to help them determine his location. Ben, however, is a survivor. He is also a man running on hate and this turns out to be a rather bad combination for the hierarchy of the television studio.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Running Man and recommend it to all lovers of dystopian fiction.
Although I knew that the book was different from the film, I never truly grasped how different it was until I got a few chapters in. The Running Man is a story of an antihero, one filled with anger toward a harsh, unforgiving world. The narrator paints a dystopian future and never seems to shine a light on any real good in the world. So many people are described in a vulgar manner, which may reflect King at the time of writing. The story is extremely slow to build, but the ride, filled with all sorts of ups and downs, was definitely worth taking.
Top international reviews
It is full of the darkness and disillusionment of his earlier years but combined with a more polished style and the triumph of our anti hero even as he flies to his death makes this extraordinarily compelling.
I've lost count of the number of times i have read this story and yet i am enthralled every time.
My advice to anyone considering this book is to read it immediately! Step in to Richards bleak world and despair with him as he struggles to overcome a system stacked against him and baying for his blood.
Great story, great characters, great writing - everything you'd expect from Stephen King. Unfortunately we'll never see a film of this that's true to the book as the ending isn't something that would ever be touched by a studio until our generation is in the grave (can't say more without spoilers, but you'll see what I mean.)
A few hours of my life well spent.
They had a great idea with this one and I loved the story but it could have been so much better.
It is amazing how many features King got right, he was writing quite some time ago.
No happy ending, though. Be prepared for putting the book down and still thinking about it.
If you've never read a Stephan king novel I suggest this one first. :-) happy reading
It was delivered promptly by the supplier.