the mercy seat cover

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The Mercy Seat
240 pages; Grove Press
Set in Jim Crow Louisiana, this moving novel centers around the impending execution of an 18-year-old black man accused of raping a white woman. Although the tragic injustice has some echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Winthrop has written an original story, told from alternating points of view. We see events through (among others) the prosecutor, who has received a terrifying threat from the Klan about what will happen to his child if he fails to produce a conviction; the local priest trying to offer comfort despite his shattered faith; a rural white couple at odds with each other and whose only child has been sent to fight in World War II; and Willie Jones, the wrongly condemned man. Winthrop captures both unspeakable cruelty and surprising kindness, and every sentence has the force of poetry. As Willie is driven from the jail to the execution site, "he tries to remember the last time he heard rain, but he can't summon the memory. Had he known at the time it was the last rain he'd ever hear, he'd have paid attention." 
— Dawn Raffel