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Sleep Toward Heaven: A Novel    by Amanda Eyre Ward Amazon.com order for
Sleep Toward Heaven
by Amanda Eyre Ward
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Three women's lives merge in Gatestown, Texas. On death row at the women's prison, Karen Lowens awaits her demise at the hands of the state executioner. Dr. Franny Wren administers to Karen, who is in dire need of a doctor's care. Franny deals with her own heartache. Cecelia has not recovered from the murder of her beloved husband Henry. Does anyone ever truly recover from such an horrendous loss? Cecelia's actions are surprising and tender. Maybe she can move on in her life.

How each woman handles her own particular crises is told with sensitivity and caring but without bias. The pros and cons of the death penalty are probed. The everyday world of prison life is all too real from the body searches of the prisoners to the interactions between inmates. The continuing anguish caused by the murder of a loved one is communicated well and is believable. Although the women on death row are there as a direct result of their own actions, the reader cannot help but feel compassion for them. They cope with everyday life as incarcerated inmates and deal with the cloud of approaching death, with different degrees of strength. Each manages to exist on her own and also as part of a tightly knit group.

Sleep Toward Heaven is a compelling novel, one that will linger with you after the last page is finished. Its characters seem to reach out to ask for understanding. While you can't condone the crimes that put them in prison, you can find it in your heart to feel a strange tenderness toward them all.

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