Title: The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak
Publisher: A John Scognamiglio Book
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Set in 1950s Louisiana, Mandy Mikulencak’s beautifully written and emotionally moving novel evokes both The Help and Dead Man Walking with the story of an unforgettable woman whose quest to provide meals for death row prisoners leads her into the secrets of her own past.
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.
Set during the 1950s,The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak is an absolutely riveting novel about a young woman who is a cook at a Louisiana prison.
Ginny Polk works in the kitchen of the same prison her murdered father once worked as a guard. She is also romantically involved with her father’s best friend, Roscoe Simmons, who is now the prison warden. Very much ahead of her time, Ginny is uninterested in marrying her much older lover since it would mean giving up her job in the prison kitchen. In another divergence from a typical white woman in the deep South, she considers her much older African American co-worker, Dot, to be her best friend and surrogate mother. While Ginny loves her job, her vocation lies in the meals she prepares for prisoners who are about to be put to death for their crimes. Although she never loses sight the horrific crimes these men have been convicted of committing, Ginny also feels they deserve one last act of compassion before they go to the electric chair.
Ginny is quite contemplative as she tries to understand what motivates her to take such care with the death row inmates’ last meal. She is well aware that her traumatic childhood experiences are a factor in her devotion to ensuring their prisoners last supper has meaning. This curiosity is the catalyst that begins her quest to find answers to questions that have long troubled her, but it is a shocking discovery about her beloved father that jeopardizes everything she holds dear.
As she reminisces about her larger than life, garrulous father, Ginny slowly starts to understand that he had also had a dark side. Roscoe has tried to protect her from the truth about the man she idolizes but she has no choice but face the fact that her father also had a cruel streak. After she stumbles onto proof that shatters her illusions about him, Ginny sets out to right a horrific wrong, but she inadvertently uncovers the stunning truth about what happened the night of her father’s murder.
The Last Suppers is starkly compelling novel that accurately depicts many of the issues of the time period including race relations and the deplorable conditions at the prison. Ginny is an empathetic young woman who is sometimes a little naive and impulsive, but her heart is always in the right place. With a multi-layered, richly developed and meticulously researched storyline, Mandy Mikulencak’s debut is poignant, through-provoking and ultimately, redemptive.