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Customer Review

42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Lesson for the Reader, August 5, 2002
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (Oprah's Book Club) (Paperback)
I'm probably in the minority here, but I did not enjoy reading this book. I expected this book to be a profound study of a relationship between a mentor and a young man ready to die. I was disappointed to find that the relationship took up relatively few pages in the novel. The first meeting between the two in which progress is shown doesn't occur until page 169, which doesn't allow for much time to fully develop the transformation. Instead of fresh insight, illuminating dialogue, and a complex relationship, Gaines tends to lean toward a simpler profoundness, but doesn't really succeed. A perfect example of this is found in the last line of the book. It doesn't end in philosophy or poetry, but only with a simple statement: "I was crying." It's simple statements like this that never satisfy, and are barely adequate.
Much of the novel is wasted focusing on the narrators mundane life, and not on the relationship. Unnecessary conflicts abound between the narrator and his aunt and his girlfriend--conflicts that almost trivialize the death of young Jefferson.
The premise is very promising, though ambitious, and it is sad to see the author spend more time creating background noise than developing what could have been a profound and beautiful relationship and transition.
My bottom line is don't waste your time. There is nothing profound or fresh to be found here.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 25, 2011 5:55:24 PM PDT
Eli says:
I would agree with this review completely. The narrators life is indeed mundane and it was sad as well as frustrating that the author wasted so many words wasting the readers time.

Posted on Jan 29, 2012 10:16:51 PM PST
branstrom says:
Interesting perspective. I agree that much of the book is about the narrator's mundane life and the many other people in the community in which Jefferson and Wiggins live. But, I disagree that this makes the book not worth reading. I think this is what *does* make it worth reading. The book isn't simply about Jefferson's and Wiggins' transformations. It's about the community in which they live, the differences among the people in that community (who are too often viewed in stereotypes), and how all these people play important roles in what takes place between Jefferson and Wiggins. The book's meaning lies in how these people and these relationships bring meaning to their lives in spite of the mundane conditions in which they live. It doesn't need poetry or profundity to wrap it up.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 10, 2013 9:09:06 PM PST
Foxfire says:
I also agree. I kept waiting to for the big moment that would tie the conflicts together coherently. Up to the last page I was still struggling to understand what the author wanted to say to me. Each time I thought I had found the thread, conflicting ideas and views crept in, and I was again left wondering. I would have enjoyed the book more if the author had started with a clear idea of his own thesis. I found the characters, including the central character, Grant, to be contradictory and contrived. Disappointing read.

In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2013 1:22:06 PM PDT
Perhaps the conflicts were not meant be tied together, you as a reader has to decide what it all means for you. As the reader, you have to think and decide for yourself what it means. I read the book and get a different perspective. How mundane it was during that time in small town in Louisiana how many matter of fact and ordinary that a man black is sentence to death for a crime he didn't commit. This was a very ordinary thing during that time. When Grant ask the question how one hand is utterly amazing, but yet mundane.

"How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? . . . Twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person. . . . They sentence you to death because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof that you had anything at all to do with the crime . . . . Yet six months later they come and unlock your cage and tell you, We, us, white folks all, have decided it's time for you to die, because this is the convenient date and time."
p. 157

Posted on Oct 25, 2013 1:00:33 PM PDT
RE: "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines
I'd suggest to dannyj999 he/she read and re-read the book until it makes an impact. When the last line in the novel makes the reader taste the salt in Grant Wiggins tears he will begin to understand that the entire book is about the relationship between Jefferson and Grant, but it will not be at all clear just who mentored whom.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2016 2:46:37 AM PST
A customer says:
Perception is Everything!
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