The Green Mile by Stephen King
(Pocket, $7.99, V) ISBN 0-671-041-789
*****
For the most part, I can take or leave Stephen King. What piqued my interest in The Green Mile was knowing that Tom Hanks was going to star in the movie. I guess I trust Tom Hanks more than I do Stephen King. While Hanks whetted my interest, Stephen King kept it. I was and am so spellbound with The Green Mile that its intensity, its gut-wrenching emotion will be with me for a long, long time.

A bit of research turned up the following information. King chose to release his novel in serial form. He was inspired by Charles Dickens, who published many of his works in this manner. King relates, "I always loved stories told in episodes. It is a format I first encountered in the Saturday Evening Post. When The Green Mile was published, nobody had attempted a serial novel in the U.S. since the 1920s. When the first episode, The Two Dead Girls, was to go on sale, I thought to myself, ‘I've made the biggest mistake of my life.' Nobody had any idea that it would succeed to the level it did, least of all me."

When it first appeared, one volume per month, Stephen King's The Green Mile was an unprecedented publishing triumph. All six volumes ended up on the New York Times bestseller list...simultaneously and ended up winning a 1997 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel.

The Green Mile is told in flashbacks narrated by Paul Edgecomb, some sixty years after working as the head guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary's Death Row. Mainly set in Depression-era South, Edgecomb recounts his memories about a quintet of killers who were waiting for their final walk down the green mile, so named because of the green linoleum flooring that went from the convict's jail cell to the electric chair.

Book one, The Two Dead Girls, introduces us to John Coffey, a behemoth Black man, condemned by his own words. We immediately sense a difference about him, this man who has been convicted of the rape and murder of nine-year-old twin girls, yet is afraid of the dark and asks for the light to be left on. Edgecomb is so disarmed when he first meets Coffey that he offers to shake hands, something he had never done before.

Using a simple, unadorned writing style, we're introduced to the men and guards on Death Row. King manages to do the impossible; he makes us care about the men who are awaiting their death. We realize that no matter how heinous the crime, the men on death row are every bit as fragile, vulnerable and emotional as we are. Well, except for one who is truly evil.

The Green Mile sets a relentless pace, using stunning power to tell a tale of guilt and innocence, trust and betrayal and good and evil. With its cast of well-fleshed and captivating characters, this book shines. It is filled with humanity, beauty and the kind of painful joy that is often matchless. Considering that Stephen King didn't know the ending when he began writing it, this is an astounding feat.

The suspense is terrifying, but not really the twisted horror found in some of his other works. This horror is the man-made kind, man's basic inhumanity to man. The anticipation of reading one of books was so painfully intense that I actually had to wait, to gear myself up to read it. And while I rarely cry in books, it wasn't unusual to stop just to wipe away the tears. No matter how clichéd it sounds, pageturner describes this story perfectly.

What pleased me is how complete the book is, filled with insight, awe and imbued with humanity. It made me question some basic beliefs, and still invokes soul-searching. That is masterful, talented writing.

Long live the King!

--Linda Mowery


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