Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"The Last Suppers"

Mandy Mikulencak is the author of The Last Suppers, which recently received a starred review from Library Journal and was named to Barnes & Noble’s list of Best New Fiction of December 2017. Set in 1950s Louisiana, the 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.

Mikulencak applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Suppers and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Suppers focuses on a prison board dinner hosted by Roscoe Simms, the warden of the Greenmount State Penitentiary. Ginny, the prison cook and the warden’s lover, eavesdrops on the dinner that’s not going as planned.
She opened the door just a crack. Roscoe paid inordinate attention to his salad as Russell Dunner, Superintendent of Corrections, spoke to him in a private conversation. Roscoe’s face remained placid. The look was familiar. He’d retreated to a peaceful place in his mind, probably reliving a fishing trip to Catahoula Lake. Yet, if asked, Roscoe would still be able to repeat every word Dunner said. His brain worked like that.

The rest of the men ate their salads and made small talk. Ginny recognized a few faces but couldn’t recall their names from previous dinners. Tim didn’t say much, but appeared pleased as punch Roscoe invited him, like a child finally asked to sit at the grown-ups’ table at Thanksgiving.

The woman had to be Dunner’s new wife. Roscoe had mentioned some time ago that he remarried after his first wife died. She sat stiffly in her crisp linen suit with a pinched look on her face. She sniffed at the chowchow on her fork and set it back down without taking a bite.

Roscoe muttered a few more “yes, sirs” before the loud man spoke again.

“You hired Roscoe to be warden, now let him do his job.” Salad dribbled down the man’s chin as he spoke.

“We got no business keeping a warden who doesn’t have the stomach for corrections,” the superintendent said. “This ain’t no hotel.”

A bitter laugh escaped Ginny’s lips. The prison was the farthest thing from a hotel. Just because Roscoe worked to improve living conditions and cracked down on the brutality of the guards, didn’t make him a weak man or an ineffective warden.

Dunner continued his tirade. “And now he wants to separate first-timers. They’re all goddamned convicts and they can live together.”
This excerpt shows that the warden, Roscoe Simms, faces substantial obstacles to true prison reform, especially the era in which he lives in the South. It says a little bit about how tired he is of fighting the good fight – and that he’d rather be at his favorite fishing hole. The excerpt doesn’t really hint at the crux of the novel, which is protagonist Ginny’s obsession with preparing last meals and how that obsession causes her world to unravel. She’s sleeping with the warden, who is her dead father’s best friend. As she starts to uncover secrets about her father’s murder, she faces her own demons and whether she’s made the right choices in her work and love life. Roscoe not only fights to improve the prison; he’s fighting to ensure Ginny doesn’t uncover those secrets. At some level, Ginny knows she is heading for unfathomable heartache but can’t help herself.
Visit Mandy Mikulencak's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Suppers.

--Marshal Zeringue