Tom De Haven
May 31, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Green Mile, Part 3: Coffey's Hands

Current Status
In Season
Stephen King
Horror, , Fiction

We gave it an A

With The Green Mile, Part 3: Coffey’s Hands, Stephen King’s serialized novel reaches the halfway point and hits its stride. Early on in the current installment, our narrator, Paul Edgecombe — now a brittle retiree living in a Georgia nursing home, but once the cell-block superintendent at Cold Mountain state penitentiary — promises to reveal his true reasons for telling us about what happened to him during the unseasonably hot autumn of 1932. ”Now let’s just see if you believe it,” he says. And at long last, patient readers, things supernatural finally punch their way into this story.

Those of you who have been following King’s cliff-hanger for the past few months won’t be surprised to discover that John Coffey, the bald-headed black giant sentenced to die in the prison’s electric chair, turns out to be a ”hoodoo man.” Since his arrival on death row, nicknamed the Green Mile, Coffey has been a fascinating puzzle to Edgecombe, who can’t reconcile the prisoner’s gentleness with the two brutal murders he presumably committed. But when Coffey cures Edgecombe’s chronic urinary infection by just a touch of his enormous hands, fascination turns to fervent gratitude.

Suddenly, the executioner feels driven to learn everything he can about the mystery man he’s been charged with strapping into ”Old Sparky” — and, if possible, to establish his innocence. Edgecombe’s investigation, however, turns eerie once he discovers that Coffey seems never to have existed in the world before his arrest.

Because King is so prolific, it’s easy to dismiss him as merely a talented goose-bump machine. Truth is, while nobody was noticing, he’s become one of the most inventive, interesting, and humane novelists we have. And if you doubt that, just pay close attention to how he juggles several parallel story lines, how he shades his characterizations, and how he evokes the gritty texture and claustrophobia of Depression-era prison life — then check out the scene in which Edgecombe visits a newspaper reporter who covered Coffey’s murder trial. Perfectly crafted and paced, it will set your hair on end. At the same time, it will break your heart. The Green Mile, like its creator, just keeps on getting better and better. A

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