An A-plus In Humanity

TITLE: A LESSON BEFORE DYING

AUTHOR: ERNEST J. GAINES

PUBLISHER: KNOPF; 256 PAGES; $21

THE BOTTOM LINE: With the art of a story-teller and the skills of a novelist, Gaines makes the difficult look easy.

A Lesson Before Dying is, like Ernest Gaines' best-known novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, set in rural Louisiana. The year is 1948, and the particulars have a familiar ring. A young, black male is convicted of murder and sentenced to death on inconclusive evidence. The youth, called Jefferson, had the bad luck to be in a white man's store at the same time that...

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