When I reviewed The Queen’s Gambit I talked about how difficult it can be to read the source material after seeing the adaptation. You can’t help but notice what details were altered or left out entirely and as you’re doing so you evaluate those decisions just as much as you react to the text itself. Well, as you can imagine, that was very much still a problem for me while reading this novella. I’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption a number of times, especially in the days when it seemed like TNT showed it every day. It’s a testament to the movie that it’s imagery remained indelible while reading the story. You still picture Morgan Freeman as Red even though you know King’s version is white, for example.
The story isn’t much different from the movie, which can make the reader impatient as they wait for events they know are coming. Andy Dufresne is unlucky enough to have his wife and her lover gunned down in a way that makes him the chief suspect. As an innocent man in prison he tries his best to keep his persona intact despite the state’s efforts to wear him down. He uses his past as a bank vice president to his advantage, eventually becoming a trusted financial advisor to the guards and the warden while also running the prison library. He befriends Red, a scrounger who can acquire contraband items like the poster of Rita Hayworth referenced in the title and depicted above.
Red is the narrator of the story, a prison lifer who worries about what life could be like on the outside if he ever is paroled. Within Shawshank he’s an important man but in the real world he’s sure he’d be a useless old man. Red is fascinated by Andy Dufresne and his ability to stay himself despite the indignities of prison life. Their friendship and the effect it has on Red is the heart of the story, and the closing words, same as they are in the film, are some of the most beautiful King has written.
Hope is a good thing, but you knew that already. You’ve seen the film.