The Green Mile (1997)
Amazon.com Top 100 Books of the Millenium (97)
Much has been made of the supposed emergence of a new spiritual aspect in Stephen King's recent writings (see Orrin's review of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) and indeed, The Green Mile is almost a direct rip off of the story of Jesus Christ. But for whatever reason--one assumes it is simple discomfort with genuine religious beliefs--King cops out again and misses a golden opportunity to produce a really significant work.
At first glance folks may resist the suggestion that this book is a sort of modern Gospel; it is after all set on Death Row, with prison guards for apostles and the Messiah is a gargantuan simpleton who is also black and awaiting execution for the brutal murder of two young girls. But John Coffey (get it, even his initials are J. C.) isn't just a convict, he is also an empath and he has the gift of healing. His enormous stature and diminished intellect mask a soul in agony, for he is constantly buffeted by the evils of the world; he truly does feel our pain, all of our pain. The guards, lead by Paul Edgecomb, come to believe in both his powerful gift and ultimately in his innocence. But even after Paul proves beyond doubt that Coffey did not commit the crimes, they are forced to participate in his relentless destiny with the electric chair (Coffey's cross), even as Christ's disciples stood idly by while he was being crucified. Coffey, like Christ, goes to his Golgotha without resisting, despite what we know to be his tremendous power--the path to Coffey's execution, the eponymous Green Mile, resembling Christ's trip down the Via Dolorosa. And in the final and clinching parallel, Paul (as in Saint Paul) sees Coffey, or his spirit, again after his death.
The book then, narrated by Paul, is a Gospel of John Coffey, testifying to the miracles he worked and to his crucifixion and resurrection. But after confidently leading us through these events, what conclusions does Paul/King draw?--that life is horrible and senseless because Coffey died. It's as if Mark, Luke, John and Matthew had abandoned Christianity because Christ was executed. I found this conclusion to be really disappointing. That one could witness these miracles and wonders and not come away with some kind of faith struck a discordant note.
Overall, I liked the book, perhaps as much as anything that King has ever written, but as always seems to be the case with him, I thought he had a chance to hit a homerun and then settled for a double or triple. He does deserve bonus points for accomplishing all of this in serial form. This is the best serial novel since Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, assuming that King really did write each installment separately and send them out as he finished. The guy writes so fast he could easily have written the whole thing and sent it out one piece at a time. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
CHARLIE HERZOG'S REVIEW:
Interesting to see your review of The Green Mile pop up on the website today-- just finished it myself. Is that a recent review, or recycled? Would also be nice if you dated your reviews, at least for those of us who are frequent perusers of the site-- a nice to know, not a need to.
(from Brothers Judd--N.B. The date a review is posted can be found after the links following the review)
In terms of The Green Mile, I agreed with your point that it was a good story that ended badly. I found the Christian allegory to be obvious, but John Coffey is a compelling enough creation that you stay with the story until being let down by Paul's whining at the end. Spare me the the last chapter of his mewling over why the Christ figure could help in one case but not the other-- a real letdown to the rest of the book, which was pretty good.
The other point I was surprised you didn't take on in your review was the anti-death penalty propaganda that I took to be the main message of the story. Don't be so quick to execute prisoners, you might be killing Christ! By setting up death row as a situation where most of the prisoners are empathetic, where the guards come to identify with their prisoners, and where the actual death sequence is bungled by authority was annoying, to say the least. We're supposed to feel bad that an admitted rapist/murderer dies in horrible pain? I don't think so! To my mind, King remains a writer of interesting stories who gets in trouble when he tries to go any deeper than good guys and bogeymen.
Chuck's GRADE: B
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-ESSAY: The Gospel According to Stephen King: The world's most famous 'horror writer' is also one of its most spiritually attuned novelists (Steve Lansingh, Christianity Today)
-ESSAY: The Metamorphosis of Stephen King (elizabeth hand, Voice Literary Supplement)
-EXCERPT: The Green Mile Chapter One
-REVIEWS: Epinions.com - The Green Mile
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