Uh-oh. The second installment of Stephen King’s serialized death-row novel has arrived, and it looks as though our national bogeyman may be spinning his wheels. Not much happens in The Green Mile, Part 2: The Mouse On the Mile; in fact, the little that does scarcely advances the story beyond the point where it left off at the end of Part 1, ”The Two Dead Girls.” I hate to say it, but you could easily skip this episode. Of course, if you do you’ll miss out on some chillingly authentic electric-chair trivia and the kind of ghoulish step-by-step, moment-by-moment description of a prisoner’s execution that used to be a staple of Depression-era tabloid newspapers. Your call.
Paul Edgecombe, now an elderly resident of a nursing home 60 miles from Atlanta, is still remembering a series of events that have haunted him since 1932, when he was a block superintendent at Cold Mountain, a remote Southern penitentiary. One of King’s most engaging narrators, Edgecombe nevertheless is beginning to display a few rough edges and some possible character flaws. By the time this six-part novel is finally completed, he may prove to be far less admirable than he seemed at first. With a zillion novels under his belt, King knows every trick and dodge of the storyteller’s art, and plays them all deftly. If we notice cracks in Edgecombe’s likable persona, it’s because the author wants us to. King remains in total control of the narrative. I just wish he’d move it along more briskly.
Besides Edgecombe’s blow-by-blow account of a nighttime execution (it’s a Cherokee Indian named Arlen Bitterbuck who walks the Green Mile — i.e., death row — to an awful end), the latest installment is given over almost entirely to an inmate named Eduard Delacroix and his budding friendship with Mr. Jingles, a smart, trainable prison mouse with ”oilspot eyes.” We hardly get a glimpse of John Coffey, the giant black man whose conviction for the murder of 9-year-old twin sisters was the focus of last month’s chapters. It’s noted that Coffey is still weeping softly in his tiny cell, and that’s that. Without the anchor of his presence, or further clues to the mystery surrounding his purported crime, the novel gradually drifts.
But hold on. Book 2 of The Green Mile ends in mid-scene with Edgecombe confronting a new prisoner gone berserk, and that long-overdue spike of action promises (let’s hope) a livelier third installment. B