EXCERPT: This happened in 1932, when the State Penitentiary was still at Cold Mountain. And the electric chair was there, too, of course.
The inmates made jokes about the chair, the way people always make jokes about things that frighten them but can’t be gotten away from. They calledit Old Sparky, or the Big Juicy. They made cracks about the power bill, and about how Warden Moores would cook his thanksgiving turkey that fall, with his wife, Melinda, too sick to cook.
But for the ones who actually had to sit down in that chair, the humor went out of the situation in a hurry. I’ve presided over seventy-eight executions during my time at Cold Mountain (that’s one figure I’ve never been confused about; I’ll remember it on my deathbed), and I think that, for most of these men, the truth of what was happening to them finally hit all the way home when their ankles were being clamped to the stout oak of Old Sparky’s legs. The realization came then, (you would see it rising in their eyes, a kind of cold dismay) that their own legs had finished their careers. The blood still ran in them, the muscles were still strong, but they were finished, all the same; they were never going to walk another country mile or dance with a girl at a barn raising. Old Sparky’s clients came to a knowledge of their deaths from the ankles up. There was a black silk bag that went over their heads after they had finished their rambling and mostly disjointed last remarks. It was supposed to be for them, but I always thought that it was really for us, to keep us from seeing the awful tide of dismay in their eyes as they realized they were going to die with their knees bent.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: When it first appeared, one volume per month, Stephen King’s THE GREEN MILE was an unprecedented publishing triumph: all six volumes ended up on the New York Times bestseller lists—simultaneously—and delighted millions of fans the world over.
Welcome to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, home to the Depression-worn men of E Block. Convicted killers all, each awaits his turn to walk the Green Mile, keeping a date with “Old Sparky,” Cold Mountain’s electric chair. Prison guard Paul Edgecombe has seen his share of oddities in his years working the Mile. But he’s never seen anyone like John Coffey, a man with the body of a giant and the mind of a child, condemned for a crime terrifying in its violence and shocking in its depravity. In this place of ultimate retribution, Edgecombe is about to discover the terrible, wondrous truth about Coffey, a truth that will challenge his most cherished beliefes… and yours.
MY THOUGHTS: When The Green Mile was first published in 1996, I bought it in its six volumes over six months. It is the most frustrating way to buy a book, and yet strangely pleasurable also. There was an exquisite agony in having to wait for the next volume. I had mine pre-ordered, of course, so that there was no danger of missing out.
I have had a mixed relationship with The Green Mile. The first read was a five star one. I couldn’t get enough of it, fast enough. There were those who said that was exactly why Mr King had published them this way, to create demand, to ensure sales, because who is going to stop buying a series half way through? But in reality the story behind how The Green Mile came about, and came to be published as a serial, is a very different, and interesting, one. If you get the chance, look it up, but what appealed to Mr King was ‘simply put, Constant Reader, you cannot flip ahead and see how matters turn out. ‘
Anyway, over the years my rating has swung between three and five stars depending, I guess, on my mood at the time, or the phase of the moon, or some such thing. But I stumbled across this collection earlier this year when I was ransacking the packing crates looking for something else entirely which, by the way, I never found and now have no idea what it was, and pulled it out intending to use it as a filler read while the Kindle is charging. But, of course, that never happened. I started it, as planned, and was swept away by Mr King’s writing, resulting in the full five stars for Mr King, and my being well behind on my scheduled ‘read for review’ books. So to those authors whose books I ought to have read and reviewed recently, I apologize, and lay the blame squarely on Mr King’s shoulders. Please don’t be angry with me, indeed why don’t you pick up a copy to read, or reread as the case may be, while I play catch-up.
It has been said that this is Mr King’s best ever work. I might not quite agree with that 100%, but it’s close. Classic King. And one day I may even be tempted to watch the movie.
THE AUTHOR: Stephen Edwin King was born the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his father left them when Stephen was two, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. Parts of his childhood were spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father’s family was at the time, and in Stratford, Connecticut. When Stephen was eleven, his mother brought her children back to Durham, Maine, for good. Her parents, Guy and Nellie Pillsbury, had become incapacitated with old age, and Ruth King was persuaded by her sisters to take over the physical care of them. Other family members provided a small house in Durham and financial support. After Stephen’s grandparents passed away, Mrs. King found work in the kitchens of Pineland, a nearby residential facility for the mentally challenged.
Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate. He came to support the anti-war movement on the Orono campus, arriving at his stance from a conservative view that the war in Vietnam was unconstitutional. He graduated in 1970, with a B.A. in English and qualified to teach on the high school level. A draft board examination immediately post-graduation found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet, and punctured eardrums.
He met Tabitha Spruce in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University, where they both worked as students; they married in January of 1971. As Stephen was unable to find placement as a teacher immediately, the Kings lived on his earnings as a laborer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men’s magazines.
Stephen made his first professional short story sale (“The Glass Floor”) to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. Throughout the early years of his marriage, he continued to sell stories to men’s magazines. Many were gathered into the Night Shift collection or appeared in other anthologies.
In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching English at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels.
DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of The Green Mile, well worn and a little battered from the many miles it has traveled, and which is about to be replaced in its packing cratefor yet another house move. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system.
This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/919960749