A couple of weeks ago, while driving somewhere, I heard on the radio that Ernest J.
Gaines died. Hearing his name immediately called to mind A Lesson Before Dying, a novel I have read and re-read.
Most of what I write about relates to the American West. I make an exception here because this book is an exception—in that it is better, much better, than most of the books ever written in the world.
It tells the story of a man accused, tried, and convicted of murder, and sentenced to die for a crime in which he played no part, other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The man is poor and uneducated, and the attorney assigned to defend him did so on the basis that the defendant’s ignorance and mental capacity made him little more than an animal.
Well, two old women are not having it. They want him to die like a man, not an animal. So, they convince an unwilling school teacher to visit the prison and educate the condemned man. The two men become friends, more than friends, and strengthen one another as execution day draws ever nearer.
A Lesson Before Dying is a gripping, heart-wrenching book more than worthy of the acclaim and awards it earned the author. It will haunt you for years. At least it has me.