Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Review: The Last Suppers

By Sara Steven

Many children have grown up in the shadow of Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary. Most of them—sons and daughters of corrections officers and staff—left the place as soon as they could. Yet Ginny Polk chose to come back to work as a prison cook. She knows the harsh reality of life within those walls—the cries of men being beaten, the lines of shuffling inmates chained together. Yet she has never seen them as monsters, not even the ones sentenced to execution. That’s why, among her duties, Ginny has taken on a special responsibility: preparing their last meals.

Pot roast or red beans and rice, coconut cake with seven-minute frosting or pork neck stew . . . whatever the men ask for Ginny prepares, even meeting with their heartbroken relatives to get each recipe just right. It’s her way of honoring their humanity, showing some compassion in their final hours. The prison board frowns upon the ritual, as does Roscoe Simms, Greenmount’s Warden. Her daddy’s best friend before he was murdered, Roscoe has always watched out for Ginny, and their friendship has evolved into something deep and unexpected. But when Ginny stumbles upon information about the man executed for killing her father, it leads to a series of dark and painful revelations.

Truth, justice, mercy—none of these are as simple as Ginny once believed. And the most shocking crimes may not be the ones committed out of anger or greed, but the sacrifices we make for love. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

The Last Suppers was by far one of the most unique love stories I’ve ever read, set in a time and place that isn’t mentioned often. It felt as though there were a lot of mountains for Ginny and Roscoe, with their occupations, their past. Even the age difference between them feels like a huge hurdle. I appreciated the difficulty of all of it. It’s too easy to have two people fall for one another who seem destined from the stars. It’s quite another to put two people together who have so much going against them, yet they still try hard to fight the odds.

And why are the odds stacked against them? I felt as though who they are as individuals and coupled together shouldn’t be much of anyone else’s business, but it’s the nostalgia of Greenmount, deep Southern roots intertwining with every single character involved, creating who they are, not letting anyone go. It has a way of shaping motivations, of becoming the deciding factor in how the future presents itself, and it does that for Ginny and Roscoe. It’s as though their lives aren’t really their own.

I enjoyed the dysfunctional functionality of this couple, but the stories of the death row inmates at Greenmount are what really cemented me to this novel. I have always had this, “right and wrong” mentality to the way I view an issue, yet seeing the world through Ginny’s eyes opened me up. Their lives are told in such a way that it’s hard not to see them as human, just as Ginny does. There is no sugar coating of what they’ve done. It’s easy to see why they are perceived as monsters, but Ginny brings to light the men they were before they were monsters. The men who have families, traditions, last meals that are often tied to a significant memory that they want to take with them to the grave. To witness the interactions between Ginny and the families, or the death row occupants, it made my stomach twist in knots. Not so much over the finality of their lives, but at who’d they’d been, and ultimately, who Ginny and Roscoe and everyone else involved had been, before the crimes.

Thanks to Kensington for the book in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

Susan Dyer said...

Wow great review, I'm going to run to Netgalley and see if it's still on there! I have got to read this niw?!!😀