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Penitentiary Tales: A Love Story


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A fascinating glimpse into prison life and a great reminder of the diversity as well as the social issues that still run rampant in life.

Penitentiary Tales: A Love Story starts off with choppy, uncertain dialogue and a strangely off-putting absence of quotation marks. However, the dialogue gets better and more fluid, and this is pulled off to great effect. In the beginning of the book, Dean Davis is faced with having to explain his imprisonment to his father-in-law, having to say farewell to his family, and is about to be thrown into a completely new environment. The choppy dialogue gives off a sense of detachment and displacement that works wonderfully with the story.

This book is an eye-opener. We so often forget that people who are different from us are human too. In this book, we get a glimpse of some of the people that occupy the space behind bars. We are introduced to a wide cast of characters throughout the book, a few who slip from the mind until reminded. Even so, most of them are vivid characters that possess unique personalities such as Mother Goose, Botha and so on. All of these characters have their own motives, their goals and their truths which show us that contrary to what we are led to believe, they are very human too. We are shown that they are not all beefy thugs that beat up each other or resent each other all the time (as what many movies depict). There is some resentment, and they do fight, but there are also inmates that are confused as to why they're doing time behind bars, those who are waiting patiently to be let out, those who don't want to pick a fight... and even the ones who do want to fight, many of them are less fortunate than us, having to tough it out on the streets with no permanent place to call home.

Life in prison can be wildly surprising too. Drawing from personal experience, E.A. Luetkemeyer includes transposed versions of events that happened while he was doing 4 years behind bars. There are welding lessons, play rehearsals, interviews among inmates and a wide variety of other pastimes and hobbies. Of course, there is also the constant lurking sense of danger that can come when you don't control your tongue or monitor your behaviour in the presence of other inmates.

After initial disorientation, this book flows well and reads wonderfully. What makes this book so colourful and gripping is still, I maintain, its fascinating set of characters and Dean Davis' unbiased, natural narration. The narration is honest and straightforward enough without being a bore, embellished now and then by some description that further enhances the storytelling. The characters vary and are diverse, and that Dean Davis' voice is clearly expressed throughout ensures that he isn't swamped by the other characters, becoming a clear central point throughout the book. The social issues mentioned in this book are also food for thought, all of which still happen and are most troubling.

For anyone looking for a read that gives you a different perspective of prison life and has multiple viewpoints on topics of race, sexuality and so on (although beware of explicit scenes), then you should give this book a chance.

Reviewed by

I enjoy discovering new writers, genres and stories as well as sharing my thoughts on the things I’ve read.


About the author

EA Luetkemeyer's short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals spanning four decades. He is the author of the novel Inside the mind of Martin Mueller and the memoir The Book of Chuck. He was awarded an MFA in Creative writing from Lesley University, Cambridge, MA, in 2015. view profile

Published on November 12, 2019

Published by

120000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Literary Fiction

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