The one and only read of the holiday A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J.Gaines and hardly light and joyously uplifting, in fact quite the opposite but perhaps it's good to read books like this in this environment. Some amelioration of the traumas and much easier to identify the positives and hints of redemption as the sun shone, had I read it in the relentless English rainy season I'd have probably wanted to plug myself in and throw the switch.
Ernest J.Gaines born on a plantation in Louisiana in 1933 and now writer-in-residence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette.
This a death row - dead man walking book of the gentle variety. Each day I'd manage a chapter that took Jefferson nearer and nearer to the electric chair.
Set in the 1940's in a small Louisiana community, a black worker Jefferson has been in the wrong place at the wrong time and finds himself convicted of robbery and murder. Most telling in the scheme of things are his defence lawyer's early attempts to plead with the jury.
"Do you see a man here?...do you see a modicum of intelligence?...anyone here who could plan anything? No gentleman this skull holds no plans.What you see here is a thing that acts on command..a thing to load your bales of cotton, to chop your wood...you do not see anything capable of planning a robbery or a murder...I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this"
Reading that again and I'm reeling.
Branded a hog, Jefferson becomes one in his cell and it is local teacher Grant who is asked to go in, talk to Jefferson and help him to die like a man.Eventually Jefferson writes a semi-literate but deeply moving diary and everyone but everyone learns lessons about themselves and life in the process.I suspect I would be even more affected by this book were I to read it again.
"sun goin down an i kno this the las one im gon ever see but im gon see one mo sunrise cause i aint gon sleep tonite im gon sleep a long time after tomoro"
Ernest Gaines nurtures and shapes a deep sense of place and people in his writing and much of the racial injustice handled as an aside rather than an in-your-face attempt to shock, far more subtle as I deduced for myself and then just wilted at the sheer awfulness of it all. Deeply perceptive but economical insight into the minds and lives of the main players, often one sentence enough to tell me all I needed to emerge armed with the feeling that I knew many of them well and would remember them.
Brilliant less-is-more writing.
Thankfully we don't witness Jefferson's demise but we do walk around Bayonne with all the inhabitants as it's happening and that is as profoundly a real reading experience as if you were watching, especially if you've watched The Green Mile.
Not a gruesome book by any means but plenty to think about for long afterwards and a writer I shall return to.