Title: The Last Suppers
Writer: Mandy Mikulencak
Publishing House: Kensington Books
Date of Publication: December 26th 2017
Rating: 3 stars
I think that most of us are attracted to controversial themes. After all, what is reading if not an opportunity to take a deeper look into issues that have shaped the world we live in? The issue of death penalty is one of the most discussed and divisive with strong opinions both in favour of and against this practice. I won’t bore you with my views on the matter, nor is it anyone’s business after all. However, this was the main reason The Last Suppers attracted my attention. The setting of New Orleans and the premise of the last supper before the execution of the convicted were factors that increased my curiosity. As it is, The Last Suppers was a rather interesting story with much potential but the writing and the overdone melodrama didn’t meet my personal standards and prevented me from connecting to the plot and to the characters.
The story takes place in New Orleans, primarily during the 50s although we are momentarily transferred to the 30s and the 40s to witness events that are strongly connected to the present narrative. Everything is seen through the eyes of Ginny, a young woman with a troubled past and a no less complicated present. Her work is one that few would envy. She is a cook in Greenmount State Penitentiary. Ginny has decided on a peculiar life mission. She prepares the last meals of those who are about to meet the justified or unjustified end. She wants to give them one last sweet memory by reminding them of beloved recipes, of happier moments at home with their families. Whether they deserve it or not is a continuous point of discussion throughout the novel. Continuous to the point of repetition but more on that later. The death of her father has been haunting her for most of her life and her relationship with his best friends doesn’t make things easier.
So what did I like in this novel? First of all, the depiction of the era and the unique atmosphere of New Orleans are remarkable. The sultry days and nights, the harsh daily life are vivid and I was transported there from the get-go. Seen as a Historical Novel, the writer did a marvelous job there. The themes she tackles are varied, difficult and very demanding. The loss of a parent at a young age, the emotional distance between a mother and a daughter, the complicated relationship with an older man are themes related to the personal life of the characters. And then, we have the important social background of the era. The discrimination between residents of the same city, the nightmare of the Ku Klux Klan, the social narrow-mindedness regarding women, the complicated issue of the death penalty and the convicted men’s former life provide plenty of material for an emotional and interesting discussion.
In my opinion, the problem is that the writing isn’t intense enough to communicate everything properly. I don’t know what this novel aspired to be. A Historical Fiction novel? A social critique against discrimination of any kind? A romance? All these together? Make of it what you will but there were times when I thought I was reading a sappy, melodramatic romance, full of hystericals and unrealistic, stale interactions. I’m not sure whether I am making any sense but in my opinion, the dialogue between the characters was sub-par as if it had sprung out of a low-quality movie. And the sad thing is that in those moments, the writing should have been rich in gravity and tension. The same complaint applies to the characters. Everyone -with the possible exception of Dot- seemed either naive or neurotic. Unengaging, blunt, frightfully unoriginal. Even Dot seemed a character that have seen in most examples of Southern Literature. Although Ginny started out quite well, she quickly became someone who couldn’t see the obvious implications of her questionable actions. Too much hysterics, sorry…This kind of literature isn’t for me. And I had seen the conclusion coming before I reached the halfway mark of the novel so no surprises there…
The most ‘’correct’’ personal rating for this novel would have been 2 stars. However, I am fully aware that my tastes and standards are quite weird. When I occupy my time with dark, difficult themes, I expect the writing to reflect the situations, well, ‘’darkly’’. I want realism, not a romantic ‘’will she, won’t she’’. In addition, I know that anything approaching sappy romance is a lost cause with me so I’d hate to be unjust because of my cold heart. There are many beloved GR friends who loved The Last Suppers. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. In my eyes, it was a wasted opportunity.
Many thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.