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Elizabeth Winthrop reads from her new novel The Mercy Seat
May 10, 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Winthrop tells the arresting tale—from multiple points of view—of a community locked in struggle with itself. Set during the hours leading up to the scheduled execution of a young black man for the alleged rape of a white woman in 1943 small-town Louisiana, Winthrop expertly captures the intimacy and tension of a town, its people, and its injustices.
On the eve of his execution by electric chair, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones sits in his cell in New Iberia awaiting his end. Across the state, a flatbed truck driven by a convict and his keeper carries the executioner’s chair from its home at the state penitentiary in Angola. On a nearby highway, Willie’s father Frank is hauling a gravestone for his son in a wagon pulled by his aged, fading mule. In his office the District Attorney who prosecuted Willie reckons with the sentencing and his own conscience, while at a gas station at the crossroads outside of town, married couple Ora and Dale grapple with their grief and their secrets.As the members of the township reflect on the implications of Willie’s upcoming execution, an intricately layered portrait of a community emerges, bearing the deep stain of the color line. Moving from voice to voice, Winthrop elegantly conveys both the ugly realities and the touching intimacies of a small town and its residents. The Mercy Seat is a brutally smart and tender novel from one of our most acute literary observers.