Hands down, one of the best novels I’ve read in some time. Let’s just get that out of the way. Rene Denfeld takes an old, decrepit prison and fills it with the the worst, and best, in humanity. Told from the heartbreaking point of view of one death row inmate, what unfolds is a slight but powerful story of shame and redemption.
Denfeld takes her own experience as a death row investigator hired to try and get reprieves for men who have done the most wretched deeds. But, the lady, as she is called, has her own secrets that bring out a compassion and understanding few stories get right when talking about the nature of young victimization and the cycle of violence. Magic and beautiful prose are spun from the depths of the ancient prison.
Other characters, some named (the cruel and vicious) and others unnamed (the good-hearted if nothing else), round out the story which for such a dark subject matter is quite light and hopeful. The use of language is wonderful, as in this passage about the vulnerability of the death row inmates:
This is the way it is, every time, all the time. Other people have doors to shut, rooms to cross. Here we have no privacy. We are trapped, naked to one another at all times. Every shit, every fart, every snore, and every cry in the night–we hear it all. Our doors must be fashioned out of desire. But maybe doors made of wishes are stronger than steel.
My first 5-star review of the year, I highly recommend this wonderful read.