I was lucky enough to be born to two individuals who were pretty avid readers in their respective days. My dad would often recite Shakespeare to me when I was just a baby, and it was his glowing praise of Watership Down that led me to picking it for a previous entry. Even as a child I was aware of how much he’d read from different authors, but I only remember my mom devouring the books of a single author–Stephen King. She is the sole reason I read the entirety of The Dark Tower series in high school. So, when I saw “A book your mom loves” on the list, I knew Mr. King would be making his first appearance in the challenge. When I asked her which one I should get, she didn’t think too long before she gave her answer. It’s time, my friends, to walk down Stephen King’s The Green Mile.
Getting stuck in a nursing home by his grandkids has given Paul Edgecombe a lot of time to reflect back on his long life, and he decides to write about the strange things that happened to him in 1932. As a younger man he was the “bull-goose screw” of E Block at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, nicknamed “the Green Mile” thanks to the color of the floor. Being the boss of a death-row wasn’t easy, but it was during the Great Depression and he worked with some genuinely good people, so Paul stuck with it. That began to change when they received the largest inmate E Block would ever see–the 6’8″ black man covered in scars by the name of John Coffey. He was convicted of raping and murdering two little white girls, but for some reason, Paul Edgecombe shook John’s hand when he arrived on the Mile. That was weird in itself, but Paul really gets interested in the new inmate when John touches him and heals the urinary infection that had brought Paul to his knees one morning. Boss Edgecombe soon comes to believe John Coffey is innocent and realizes the large man is far more than what he seems. Still, no one could know what effect the mysterious, seemingly ever-crying man would have on the lives of everyone on the Green Mile.
I haven’t read too many of his books (I think I’m at ten now), but King is definitely one of my favorite authors. Most of the fantasy I read is either set in another world or presents a hidden culture in a world much like our own. King was sorta my introduction to certain fantastical things being there just because they’re there. His are books are often very grounded compared to my normal fare. Despite it being years since I last read one of his books, I was looking very forward to this. And, y’all…Watership Down finally has a contender for my favorite book in this reading challenge. What can I say? My parents have good taste.
I only mentioned two characters in that set-up paragraph, but there are so many great characters in this book (le gasp). Best mouse Mr. Jingles, best bro Brutus “Brutal” Howell, best warden Hal Moores, worst prisoner Wild Bill, worst guard Percy Wetmore, best lady at nursing home Elaine Connelly, best…you get the idea. King is really good at giving you flawed heroes you find yourself cheering for, but he excels at making real bastards you want to see get their comeuppance. And you get both here! For the most part. I still can’t believe I felt bad for Eduard Delacroix who found himself on the Mile for raping and murdering a girl and then killing six more people by accident when he set her body on fire to cover up the evidence which caused the building next to her to burn down. King can play with your emotions with the best of them. Giving Del a mouse arguably smarter than he was definitely helped, though.
Aside from the mystery of what Paul was doing in the shed on the nursing home grounds every day, there wasn’t much that kept me invested in the present day narrative. That was compelling and Elaine is great, but the introductory chapters of all six parts sometimes felt like they were keeping me from John Coffey. Which is fascinating now that I think about it. Paul often mentions how Coffey had a hypnotic effect on people when he wanted to. You couldn’t help but be drawn to him. Looks like he got me, too.
As with most Stephen King novels, this one isn’t for the faint of heart. There are deaths both peaceful and gruesome. Also, I genuinely cried at one point. I didn’t just tear up. I didn’t just get a single tear from getting all feels-y. I cried, and it took me a good while to pick the book back up.
Like I said earlier, The Green Mile is a top contender for my favorite book I’ve read during this challenge. It’s by one of my favorite authors, it’s populated by a great cast, and that there story ain’t none too shabby either. It’d make a pretty good movie!
We’re getting to that spoopy (as the youngsters say) time of year, so it’s appropriate the next book is a book that scares me.
What will it be? Stay tuned to find out.