Back in May, Read It & Steep met to discuss one of my all-time favorite books, Stephen King’s The Green Mile. We’ve found, in the past, that sometimes conversation can be stifled if we all feel pretty similarly about a title. Not so with Mr. King’s masterpiece. This was the first time in the history of RI&S that every single attendee gave a book a 5 teacup rating.
It was a special night all around, most especially because my mom attended. This is one of her favorite books as well and I credit her with encouraging me to read it the first time around. It was Mom’s intention to sit in the corner (creepy, right? I made her sit at the table) and not make a sound, but she found that she simply could not avoid getting involved in such an interesting conversation.
The attendees described this book as gripping and we agreed that it almost doesn’t feel like you’re reading a book. King sucks you into this world and it’s like you can hear the guards’ shoes clicking along the tiles of the Green Mile. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film adaptation of this novel is so well done. It’s no surprise that Stephen King considers the film as one of the better adaptations of his works, Frank Darabont’s script is dead-on, the only character who isn’t pretty much exactly as described in the book is Wild Bill, but Sam Rockwell plays him extraordinarily, so all is forgiven. It would be a lie to say that those of us who have seen the film were able to read this without picturing the actors as the men in the book, but when a film is so brilliantly cast, does this even matter? Side note: I did a little research before our meeting and found an article saying that John Travolta was nearly hired to play the lead character as opposed to Tom Hanks . . . we all agreed that our enjoyment of the film (and God forbid the book) would have been exponentially decreased had that been the case.
If you aren’t aware, The Green Mile was originally published in serial form, 6 issues over 6 months. The group had a good laugh over the idea of being forced to read in this archaic fashion. Dickens and his contemporaries were well known for serializing their works in magazines (one of my favorites, Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell had only two or three issues when the author died, leaving the book unfinished) so readers of a by-gone era were forced to wait to see the outcome of a work over a period of time, sometimes years. One member lamented, “Uh, that would be like watching tv like a regular person!” We laughed that we are all Netflix & Hulu & On Demand binge watchers. Only Melissa attempted to consume The Green Mile as originally intended, consciously stopping between each “book” for a short period of time. The rest of us agreed; we just couldn’t do it, we were binge readers.
When we chose The Green Mile some of our members were nervous about reading Stephen King, knowing the author as simply being a horror novelist. I’m so glad we were able to convince those members to at least give it a try. While not a traditional horror novel, there are plenty of the “horrors! horrors!” that our steepers have come to expect from the books we choose. Even though this book does have a touch of the supernatural stamp, the majority of the horrors are all too real to the world: rape and murder, racism and cruelty. It’s a powerful and moving novel. Many of us were moved to tears throughout the book. In my case, I read the last line, closed the book, and immediately wept and wept hard.
Many of us felt that the Read It & Steep conversation was woefully short. There is simply so much to discuss about this book. We could have spent so much time talking about how beautifully fleshed out even the smallest characters, both in size (Mr. Jingles) and part (the Chief, as one example) are. We did spend a little time talking about the intelligence of characters . . . way to go, Paul, for quoting Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky! We talked about racial tensions both now and then (2015/1932), here and there (Pennsylvania/Alabama) and I feel confident saying that everyone left our meeting still pondering a very important question . . .
In the book, John Coffey is executed for the murder of two little white girls although he did not commit that crime. He does however; use the malignant cancer that he pulls from Melinda Moores to infect Percy Wetmore, who in turn, murders Wild Bill Wharton. Percy is then left in a catatonic state for the rest of his life. Despite the villainous nature of these two characters who receive their comeuppance, the members of Read It & Steep had a very interesting conversation about whether this act strips John Coffey of his innocence. We felt sure that his behavior was premeditated, at least to some degree. Some argued that due to the fact that John could hear thoughts and also had visions about intentions when touched, that he was perhaps saving someone somewhere from the cruelty that Percy would certainly inflict in the future. We also mentioned that while Wild Bill was on the Green Mile, it had been mentioned that his lawyer was working on an appeal, so maybe John knew that he had to ensure William Wharton could never again commit a crime like the murder of the Detterick twins. The question that none of us felt quite comfortable answering with certainty was this: While John Coffey was not guilty of the crime for which he is executed; does he go to the electric chair as an innocent man?
The Read It & Steep members rate The Green Mile 5 enthusiastic and unanimous teacups.