Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile by Stephen King

Paperback, 1999, 544 pages.

This is the first fiction book of King's that I picked up after reading On Writing. I got it from the library, it's a thick little paperback. I wasn't expecting that length, but it only took me about a week to finish it.

This book is the written account of Paul Edgecombe, an elderly man in Georgia Pines retirement home, about the year of 1932 on the E Block ("Death Row") of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He was the head guard, and tells the story of John Coffey, a large black man who is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two girls, but is much more than he seems.

I really enjoyed this read. It was first published as a serial novel, and you can tell where the cliffhangers are, where people probably groaned and said, "When's the next one coming out??" Even though the movie and book were both really successful, I didn't know anything about the book other than John Coffey was probably innocent. The twists and turns were a total surprise to me, so I won't spoil anything for anyone who decides to read it. I'll just say it was a great story with moving characters.

A few things I could learn from this book:

Avoid making sweeping moral judgments. This book definitely deals with some huge moral issues - racism, innocence vs. guilt, violence, arrogance, punishment, justice. But Paul rarely comes out and says, "Racism is bad" or "Percy got what he deserved." At times, of course, he can't insert his beliefs about these things, but in the end, King leaves a kind of moral ambivalence in the wake of the powerful story. He doesn't come right out and say that the guards were right or wrong. He doesn't hammer some moral into our heads. We are left to decide what the story says about life and punishment and God and mercy. I liked that because it didn't seem like King was preaching to me. There were good men and bad men and a lot of men in between, and that's very close to real life.

Foreshadowing. Because Paul was writing this from his retirement home sixty years in the future, he would occasionally allude to something that would happen later on in the book. It definitely hyped up the suspense. I wanted to read about Delacroix's bad death a hundred pages before it happened. This obviously wouldn't work with every narrative form, unless the narrators were consciously in the future. Because plenty of times, if you use the past tense, the narrators are in the present, and they don't know what's going to happen any more than the reader. But in the event where they are in the future, this is a good trick to use. I wonder why Ishiguro's use of this annoyed me when King's didn't.

This book is sad, I cried, but I'd recommend it! Expect a book/movie analysis soon - we watched the movie last night!

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