Monday, February 6, 2012

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

I knew I was into a tough read when three friends on a writing retreat all told me A Lesson Before Dying was good. Yeah, sure, their words were all the same but it was the intonation, the way they expressed the "goodness" of the book that caught me.

I get why they said it that way now. The book swallowed me yesterday. I had kinda plinked my way through it up until yesterday morning, reading a bit at night until my eyes couldn't stay open. The momentum built in this book step by step, moment by moment, like walking up a long gradual uphill that you know you can walk fast or slow and there is no rush to get to the top. But then there was. Because I knew something was happening and it wasn't gonna be good. Or was it?

If we are lucky, we have one person in our life who turns us, who helps us shift from our own self-centeredness to seeing the light of the world, of humanity, of living. Gaines wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a classic read when I was in high school. Cicely Tyson played the main character impeccably, and whenever I think of her, I can see her standing with her do-rag and her broom and her conviction and integrity, all in the midst of such hatred disrespect, and ugliness. Gaines writes from a world of truth and hurt that change me and return me at the same time. I will be ruminating about this book for awhile to come. When a good man is killed, I tend to do that.

Oh, I didn't say much about the book. Hmmm, I am not sure what to say about it. Guess you maybe will just read it for yourself. A teeny window in? Racism, the South, '40's, death row, and a teacher.

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