A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J Gaines
book awards challenge (NBCC 1993); herding cats challenge
I'm not sure I read this book in the right setting. A story about lessons learned before dying in the electric chair and an amusement park don't really go together, but I had lots of time while watching children ride the roller coaster and merry go round, so I took advantage of the reading time. This Oprah pick of a novel was good and kept my attention, but it's not the type of book that will make me rave.
Grant Wiggins, the teacher on a plantation school, is asked by his aunt to go and visit Jefferson in jail, in the months leading up to Jefferson's execution for a crime he did not commit. Grant is not happy with the way his life is going, and the expectations he feels on placed on him, but in talking to Jefferson, he gains a new view of what it means to live. I gained a new appreciation for life in the 1940s of Louisiana, in which the race relations don't appear to have progressed very far from the slavery days. It was rather scary to realize how desperate the times were for African Americans a relatively short time ago. It was a good read and it feels like an important book. Maggie talks about sense of place in the Southern Reading Challenge, and I really felt it in this book.
from the cover: "Enormously moving ... Gaines unerringly evokes the place and time about which he writes." - Los Angeles Times