August 02, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Green Mile, Part 5: Night Journey

Current Status
In Season
Stephen King
Fiction, Horror
We gave it an A

As its millions of readers are already aware, Stephen King’s six-part experiment in serial storytelling has proved to be more than just the season’s most profitable literary gimmick: It’s turned into the most suspenseful novel he’s written in years. With The Green Mile, Part 5: Night Journey, we’re just one chapter away from discovering how the fates of gentle death-row inmate John Coffey and compassionate prison guard Paul Edgecombe intertwine. Edgecombe will, we know, survive, since he’s King’s narrator, piecing together his Depression-era reminiscence some 60 years later. As for Coffey, the good news is that this chapter gets him out of Cold Mountain Penitentiary on the mission of mercy foreshadowed at the end of part 4. As for the bad news, why spoil the fun that can be had by any reader with an hour to spare?

Cynics might say that the biggest feat King pulls off in The Green Mile is that he’s getting readers to pay $18 for what adds up to a paperback that could fit comfortably into the first third of The Stand. But King deserves credit for doing more than writing a novel and then chopping it into six parts. The Green Mile‘s narrative has been shaped so effectively that readers can pick up each book after a weeks-long lapse and be engrossed anew. This richly emotional installment capitalizes on the fact that we’ve now spent several months getting to know his characters; that so much cumulative power can be packed into 83 pages of story is only one of the many pleasant surprises this series continues to yield. A

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