THE GREEN MILE (1996) (Bram Stoker Award Winner)
"Mr. King now dominates like Carrie at the prom"
- The New York Times -
Ok, this is why I read. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to spend a good deal of my hours with a book in my hand. "The Green Mile" is one of those works you get to feel right under your skin, rubbing your marrow so powerfully that when you get to the last page you fall a prey to clashing emotions: you're sad because you are going to lose contact with those characters, but you're satisfied because your inner self has experienced something special.
Emulating Charles Dickens, this book was released in a serial format (six monthly chapters) in 1996. A daring attempt which only a few authors could have come out unscathed from. As I once read, this out-of-date solution allowed King to deliver in each installment the punch of a short story, in which he's a master by all accounts. I actually read this book when it was published as a complete novel, but I believe that waiting for each part to come out must have been a tantalizing experience!
The plot is well known: Paul Edgecomb is an old man who is spending the last part of his life in a nursing home, but back in 1932 he was "head screw" in the E-Block of Cold Mountain Penitentiary, a Depression-era version of a modern death-row. The "green mile" is the lime-green linoleum floored hall leading from the cells to the electric chair. The whole book recounts the wondrous events that took place in that year at Cold Mountain, alternating them with bits of Paul's present life. He was changed forever, along with the other guards in E-Block, when a very peculiar convict was transferred to Cold Mountain to be put to death. His name was John Coffey, a black man with the body of a giant, the mind of child and a spirit belonging to the twilight zone, who had been sentenced to death for the hineous murder of two little girls.
Stephen King has proven that he's not only a master when he sets about out-and-out horror, which is certainly absent in this book, thus showing that he's clearly evolving into a phase of his career in which he can be thought of as a complete, mature writer. What we find in "The Green Mile" is a merry-go-round of greed, evil, ruthlessness, intolerance, but also of sympathy, courage, friendship and love for life. All these aspects are wrapped in a fluent, captivating narration whose pace is always surprisingly brisk, even when there's no action at all, and which is buttressed by a vividness in the descriptive parts that appeals to our very senses. We're not far from smelling the pungent stench of burnt flesh in the execution room, and Edgecomb's pain when he struggles with his urinary infection is so tangible that it almost hurts. But after all…this is SK's specialty.
King's use of the first person reaches here the peaks of perfection, giving us free access to the innermost thoughts of the protagonist and making us live all of his conflicts and certainties with an emotional involvment that's powerful from page one. All the characters, besides, are ever so believable, each carved in the stone of Paul Edgecomb's memory. I don't think I'll easily forget the weeping of Coffey on his bunk, Percy rubbing his hickory baton or Delacroix throwing his colored spool against the walls of his cell.
No flaws, then? Well, maybe it is a bit too cute at times, and it may acquire the overtones of a fable in some respects, but if you're not so hardened to appreciate a book only when a vampire goes for a jugular, then you're likely to be captured by this one. I was very satisfied with the ending, which I raced through with a clump in my throat. As a matter of fact, we're talking about a real tear-jerker, here, but I don't want you to think that King indulged a pointless soapboxing because I believe that everything, in this book, has rhyme and reason. If it extolls your tears it's because, paradoxically, there's no hackneyed platitude in it, and no easy, precooked solution is dealt out if you try to read on a deeper level. It leaves you with hope and teaches you to love freedom and life, but at the same time it shows you how much evil surrounds us, being an inextricable part of our nature.
One of the best books I've read in the last year. Highly recommended. 9/10
In Italiano: un'approfondita recensione del FILM "Il Miglio Verde" diretto da Frank Darabont. Solo su CINEMA 291.