With the first three installments sitting pretty on the best-seller lists, Stephen King’s ongoing serialized Depression-era prison novel has become not only a commercial hit but also a literary event — one that has everybody talking and nobody sneering. Like The Godfather (and unlike, say, The Bridges of Madison County), this is popular fiction of the first rank. Best of all, King’s Green Mile serial has turned into a national guessing game: How is it all going to end? I’ve got my suspicions, of course, and if you’ve been following the story, you probably have yours too. But we’ll just have to wait until the end of August to find out for sure.
In the meantime, here comes The Green Mile, Part 4: The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix. While it begins with a tender miracle on death row (yes, convict John Coffey’s powerful healing hands are once again responsible), events soon take a turn for the gruesome, culminating in — no exaggeration — one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve ever read.
Over the years, King has presented us with a crowded gallery of vicious creeps, but for low-down maliciousness none of them can surpass prison guard Percy Wetmore, who decides in this episode to play a practical joke at a midnight execution. As a result of his deliberate violation of routine procedure, ”bad death” doesn’t begin to describe what befalls poor Eduard Delacroix, the Louisiana-born murderer, after he’s strapped into the electric chair. Barbecue does.
As The Green Mile hurtles toward its climax, it looks like we can anticipate, in next month’s edition, a most unconventional bust-out from Cold Mountain state penitentiary. But then again, maybe not. King has a way of confounding expectations, bless his sneaky little heart. A