The Last Suppers

Written by Mandy Mikulencak
Review by Lauren Miller

Set in the fictitious Greenmount State Penitentiary in Louisiana during the 1930s-1950s, the novel shows, from the perspective of a prison cook and the prison warden, the physical and psychological toll of their occupations. Mikulencak, a Colorado native, explores Southern mores and class differences in the period, racism, prisoners’ rights, and the effect of capital punishment, both in the lives of the prisoners and their families, and the families of the victims.

Ginny Polk is a remarkable heroine who, despite her own father’s murder, recognizes the humanity of the inmates, when it’s been largely forgotten by everyone else. Ginny understands the connection between food and memory and takes extraordinary measures to prepare a special last meal for each inmate, her way of tempering justice with mercy. Roscoe Simms, her father’s best friend and now Greenmount’s warden, protects Ginny’s acts of compassion from the eyes of the prison board, while discouraging her efforts throughout their unusual friendship.

Raw and heartbreaking, through The Last Suppers we see the personal sacrifice and love of a woman whose life is fraught with pain on her journey to discover the truth of her father’s life and death. In this short but difficult read, the author has provided a group discussion guide and, on a much lighter note, a handful of the recipes mentioned in the novel (all from period sources) with colorful names like Chowchow and Clabber Cake. Unrestrained in its honesty, this is one novel that will keep you thinking long after the last page is read.