Author: Stephen King
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: March 2015
A free what?! I can’t tell what was supposedly included in pink there in the original boxset. I had the box but it was ruined by toddler hands. The individual volumes themselves are nifty, all brightly colored and the same length (with the exception of the final installment, which is longer). The set only cost a few bucks used years ago, and a recent Stephen King discussion with a coworker caused me to finally give it a go.
This is some pretty solid King. Despite the hyperbolic selling points on the paperbacks, it’s not all that terrifying. But then, most regular SK readers know that he has more tricks up his sleeve than traditional horror. This book does have one large dose of supernatural, framed in the construct of some old-timey religion. Without the miracle nature of prisoner John Coffey, who acts as “a conduit” of healing, there wouldn’t really be a story, so you have to go with it. Plus the narrator really sells it. Former death row guard Paul Edgecombe tells the story from his retirement home, and his take is about as objective a one as you could hope for from someone bound up in the fantastic.
The six parts that make up the novel are all impressively solid, and feature plenty of memorable set pieces. The prisoners and guards are full characters, as long as you can get used to those weird King phrases that seem pulled from thin air. (Also, there’s an amusing feel of stumbling into a certain story of a boy wizard when you come across sentences that involve Dean, Harry, and Percy.) I can’t say how accurate the situations and mannerisms would be for this story set in the dustbowl of 1932, but it sure feels real while you’re deep in the book. I’d recommend it for those who enjoyed the prison tale of “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” but want something a bit longer. My only regret was that I read it in the wrong season; this one is meant for the stickiness of late summer, or an unseasonably hot October evening.
And one last hurrah for the format. It would have been a lot of fun to experience the serial release in real time. King seems to have enjoyed the Dickensian experiment, though he mentions he probably wouldn’t do it again. But I wish other authors would, especially if they have long stories in the works. Readers want a good cliffhanger, but one that is soon resolved. We want Southern Reach instead of A Song of Ice and Fire. Sign me up for the next revival of something published in this format.