For some years now, I’ve been reading through the works of Stephen King in chronological order. I’d avoided picking this one up for a while, having watched the movie a zillion times, but while the storyline held no surprises for me, what did surprise me was just how insanely good it was regardless, with King’s words rapidly catching hold of me and not letting go until I’d stayed up way past bedtime, breathlessly turning pages and gulping back tears.
In case you’re one of the very unlikely people to have never heard about The Green Mile, it centres around the remembrances of Paul Edgecombe, now elderly and out of the way in a retirement community, of the events of 1932 when he was head screw on Death Row in Cold Mountain prison. Despite having ushered many more men into the arms of death than any of the men he’s ever watched over, Paul is a decent man, who exercises his power to keep the condemned men on the block calm and willing to face their reckoning, and see that their deaths are as quick and proper as the State will allow. 1932 brings some new prisoners to the block, as well as an insecure bully onto Paul’s crew, and events are set in motion that will shake Paul to the core and change the course of his life.
I’ve read more than my fair share of King’s works by now and, despite the odd wobble, have found that when he’s good, he’s insanely good. The Green Mile definitely falls into that category, with King’s talent for writing flawed people taking centre stage. Despite reminding us constantly of the crimes committed by the men on the block, he writes with such empathy that you can still find a tremendous amount of compassion for a man who’s apparently burned the residents of a building to a crisp, to the point of sobbing at his needlessly cruel death, and feel a fiery hatred for the small and petty prick on the crew whose only joy comes from tormenting those weaker than him.
Apparently published in instalments when first issued, this accounts for the only, very minor flaw in this book in my opinion. Making sure to play catch up for any new readers at the beginning of each new part, entire passages are repeated from the end of the preceding one, which was a little distracting when reading it all in one setting. Still, that really is an incredibly minor flaw in an incredible book, and I’m very glad that I didn’t skip this one in favour of the stories that were unknown to me.