The Green Mile
Author: Stephen King
Though I think it’s a step behind The Stand and Pet Sematary, I’m giving this one five stars as probably the next best book I’ve read of his (I’m going through them more or less chronologically by publication date). For those living in a a fallout shelter a la Christopher Walken inBlast From the Past, The Green Mile is about a department of corrections death row employee who encounters a giant black man in the 1930’s who is scheduled to be executed and all of the weird things that happen surrounding it.
Much of the criticism of this book is about who the protagonist is in the book, and how little the magical man set to be executed really is developed as a character. Essentially John Coffey (like the drink, only not spelled the same) gets about a page of dialogue or less throughout the whole book, and is a plot device more than a character. The fact that he is black has been a main factor in attributing the magical negro to Stephen King (who also utilized the trope in The Stand). The character’s race is certainly important to the story, with the time and place of the book’s setting being all to willing to marginalize, brutalize or even ignore outright a person who was black.
Instead the developed characters are Paul Edgecomb, the man responsible for running the show on the executions, a few of his co-workers who are good (Harry, Dean, and Brutal) and one who is very, very bad named Percy Wetmore. Percy is the latest in a long line of King antagonists who only seem to exist to make life miserable for other King characters. Also on the block are a few other men set to be executed, including William “Billy the Kid” or “Wild Bill” Wharton and Delacroix and his pet mouse Mr. Jingles.
More time is spent on the mouse named Mr. Jingles than is spent on John Coffey, and he also has arguably a more fulfilling character arc. However, aside from Paul the other characters (and mice) in the book are all there to have an effect on Paul or provide color and whimsy to his story. The story is told through 1st person narration as a past tense flashback. Paul is now an old man in a retirement home, and he has his own story of secrets, love and villains in the present day as well.
It’s been awhile since I saw the film version of this so I don’t recall if the old man version of Paul was in it or not but it was nice that after I got past Coffey’s story arc (which the movie tells very faithfully) that I had no idea where King was going with the story next. The movie either skipped it or I don’t remember it, but either way there was a decent amount of material wrapping everything up afterward.
I’d describe this book as successfully manipulative. King is obviously pulling at our heart strings and using plenty of tricks to do so, but as a reader I didn’t mind them because the story moves very quickly (much more so than most of his books) and for the most part there are exciting mini-story arcs taking place frequently due to the manner the book was originally published (this was done though a series of serialized mini-installments published monthly).