Book Review Wednesday: The Green Mile – Stephen King (5 stars)

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Book Reviews
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I’ve read some really good Stephen King books lately. I think my favorite is a draw between this one and ‘The Long Walk,’ though my answer will probably change the next time I think on it. There’s just so much feeling in this book! Every time I thought it might be over, things started up again. Poor John Coffey. Poor all the nice guards.

Before I go any further, here’s the blurb:

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in “Old Sparky.” Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

Now, my major issue with Stephen King is that he has a tendency to put in something supernatural when something less fantastical would do (and might in some cases make even more of an impact.) He can also have the tendency to make his evil folks too evil so they stop seeming human. I think he did a good job staying away from those issues in this book.

This whole book seemed to ask the question ‘what is evil?’ Our narrator Paul Edgecombe takes pains to say that not all the prisoners he came across on death row fit into the category we see as evil. We see the dignity ‘The Chief’ carries himself with on the way to the chair, and the sweetness and caring of Eduard Delacroix as he dotes over his pet mouse. We see John Coffey crying all the time and his childlike fear of the dark.

Then there’s Billy the Kid. I wouldn’t hesitate to call him evil, but King doesn’t leave it at that. He seems like a spoiled kid who views the whole world as his playground, and the people in it as his toys. You know that kind of kid you met when you were little who snatches up the other kids toys and breaks them because he thinks it’s his right to. I can’t name a single nice thing about the character, but he’s not a faceless evil villain. I understand him and see him as human – a horrible human, but a human none the less.

Percy Wetmore is similarly a nasty guy. He doesn’t delight in chaos as much as Billy the Kid. Percy holds grudges. He believes he’s special, like Billy the Kid does, but unlike the Kid he uses threats instead of violence to get his way. He’s content carrying on as a normal human would, as long as he’s not asked to do much, or feels that his high status brought by his relative’s important job is in question. He wants people to respect him, and it’s when he thinks this respect is in question that he gets dangerous.

In some ways he’s more dangerous than Billy the Kid, because Billy doesn’t care about getting in trouble, Percy does. So he’ll go after the weak who can’t fight back, or use his connections to threaten someone’s job, or target a beloved pet mouse.

Both are evil, and maybe even Delacroix is evil for the crimes he committed before coming to the green mile. Maybe even the nice guards could be considered evil for what they’re forced to do near the end of this book. I won’t give away the ending, except to say that it is beyond sad. Everyone was crying, I was near tears. But the impact of what they’ve done doesn’t really hit until years later when Paul loses his wife. That was the biggest impact for me, because you realize how many lives John Coffey could’ve changed for the better if he was still able to.

In short this is a powerful book, and I recommend it to everyone. Seriously, go read it.

For more reviews on this book check out:

  1. Levi says:

    Cool review. I like how you mentioned The Long Walk–that was my first ever SK read! I only just recently got around to The Green Mile. It was pretty great. Check out my review if you’re interested:

    Take care!

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