The Chaneysville Incident

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The legends say something happened in Chaneysville. The Chaneysville Incident is the powerful story of one man's obsession with discovering what that something was—a quest that takes the brilliant and bitter young black historian John Washington back through the secrets and buried evil of his heritage. Returning home to care for and then bury his father's closest friend and his own guardian, Old Jack Crawley, he comes upon the scant records of his family's proud and tragic history, which he drives himself to ...

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The Chaneysville Incident

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Overview

The legends say something happened in Chaneysville. The Chaneysville Incident is the powerful story of one man's obsession with discovering what that something was—a quest that takes the brilliant and bitter young black historian John Washington back through the secrets and buried evil of his heritage. Returning home to care for and then bury his father's closest friend and his own guardian, Old Jack Crawley, he comes upon the scant records of his family's proud and tragic history, which he drives himself to reconstruct and accept. This is the story of John's relationship with his family, the town, and the woman he loves; and also between the past and the present, between oppression and guilt, hate and violence, love and acceptance.

This novel about a black man's search for his past rivals Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon as the best novel about the Black experience. -- Christian Science Monitor

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Editorial Reviews

Sacred Life
David Bradley's second book, The Chaneysville Incident, took ten years to complete. A deeply moving work set in the mountains of Pennsylvania, it received the PEN/Faulkner Award as the best novel of 1981. John Washington, the novel's hero, is a history professor and scholar, a man with an impressive mastery of his academic world, a proud rebuke to stereotypes of black intellectual inferiority. But he is utterly detached from his heritage; he is a historian of other people's history who wants to believe that his identity as a black man goes no further than the color of his skin. John is nevertheless driven by circumstances and his own demons to go back home, to the mountains of Pennsylvania, and back in time, to the lives of his ancestors, to uncover the truth about his father and his father's father and, ultimately, about himself.

The novel opens with Washington, the consummate professional whose demons are well contained deep within his subconscious, having reached a critical point in his life. His girlfriend, Judith, demands a greater emotional commitment, which he finds he is unable to give. When he is summoned back to the town of his birth by an urgent message advising him of the imminent death of Old Jack, the only one of the three men who reared him still living, he begins an introspective journey that challenges his willingness and ability to expiate his demons. With the help of the dying Jack, he enters a personal history he had staunchly avoided because of an emotionally inaccessible father and the contempt that he holds for his mother. Washington uncovers the mystery of his father's suicide; learns the heroic truth of how his great-grandfather, an ex-slave, was killed when caught helping twelve runaways; discovers that his contempt for his mother is misplaced; and creates within himself a place of compassion where commitment to Judith can grow.

The heroes of The Chaneysville Incident&#8212John Washington; his father, Moses; and his grandfather, Brobdingnag C. K.&#8212stand apart as strong, contemplative, intellectual men. Each, in his own way, uses tools of logic and creativity to invent ways of understanding and surviving in an illogical, hostile world. But they are also men who draw their strength from and give their lives for family, community, and heritage. As John grows up, his disconnection from family, community, and heritage lead him to an unbalanced life&#8212strong intellect, malnourished spirit&#8212and a tormented psyche. In beautiful and precise prose, Bradley tells the story of how that balance between intellect and spirit was regained, and how an intelligent reclamation of one's heritage can be a source of strength and peace.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380585861
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/1982
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 464

Read an Excerpt

197903032330

(Saturday)



Sometimes you can hear the wire, hear it reaching out across the miles; Whining with its own weight, crying from the cold, panting at the distance, humming with the phantom sounds of someone else's conversation. You cannot always hear it--only sometimes; when the night is deep and the room is dark and the sound of the phone's ringing has come slicing through uneasy sleep; when you are lying there, shivering, with the cold plastic of the receiver pressed tight against your ear. Then, as the rasping of your breathing fades and the hammering of your heartbeat slows, you can hear the wire: whining, crying, panting, bumming, moaning like a live thing.

"John?" she said. She had said it before, just after she had finished giving me the message, but then I had said nothing, had not even grunted in response, so now her voice had a little bite in it: "John, did you hear me?"

"I heard you," I said. I let it go at that, and lay there, listening to the wire.

"Well," she said finally. She wouldn't say any more than that; I knew that.

"If he's all that sick, he ought to be in the hospital."

"Then you come take him. The man is asking for you, John; are you coming or not?"

I listened to the wire.

"John." A real bite in it this time.

"Tell him I'll be there in the morning," I said.

"You can tell him yourself," she said. "I'm not going over there."

"Who's seen him, then?" I said, but she had already hung up.

But I did not hang up. Not right away. Instead I lay there, shivering, and listened to the wire.

Judith woke while I was makingcoffee. She had slept through the noise I had made showering and shaving and packing-she would sleep through Doomsday unless Gabriel's trumpet were accompanied by the smell of brewing coffee. She came into the kitchen rubbing sleep out of her eyes with both fists. Her robe hung open, exposing a flannel nightgown worn and ragged enough to reveal a flash of breast. She pushed a chair away from the table with a petulant thrust of hip, sat down in it, and dropped her hands, pulling her robe closed with one, reaching for the mug of coffee I had poured for her with the other. She gulped the coffee straight and hot. I sat down across from her, creamed my own coffee, sipped it. I had made it strong, to keep me awake. I hated the taste of it.

"Phone," Judith said. That's how she talks when she is not quite awake: one-word sentences, and God help you if you can't figure out what she means.

"The telephone is popularly believed to have been invented by Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotsman who had emigrated to Canada. Actually there is some doubt about the priority of invention--several people were experimenting with similar devices. Bell first managed to transmit an identifiable sound, the twanging of a clock spring, sometime during 1876, and first transmitted a complete sentence on March 10, 1876. He registered patents in 1876 and 1877."

Judith took another gulp of her coffee and looked at me, squinting slightly.

"The development of the telephone system in both the United States and Great Britain was delayed because of the number of competing companies which set up systems that were both limited and incompatible. This situation was resolved in England by the gradual nationalization of the system, and in America by the licensing of a monopoly, which operates under close government scrutiny. This indicates a difference in patterns of economic thought in the two countries, which still obtains."

She just looked at me.

"The development of the telephone system was greatly speeded by the invention of the electromechanical selector switch, by Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, in 1899."

"John," she said.

"I didn't mean to wake you up."

"If you didn't want to wake me up you would have made instant."

I sighed. "Jack's sick. Should be in the hospital, won't go. Wants me." I realized suddenly I was talking like Judith when she is not quite awake.

"Jack?" she said. "The old man with the stories?"

"The old man with the stories."

"So he's really there."

I looked at her. "Of course he's there. Where did you think he was-in Florida for the winter?"

"I thought he was somebody you made up."

"I don't make things up," I said.

"Relax, John," she said. "It's just that the way you talked about him, he was sort of a legend. I would have thought he was indestructible. Or a lie."

"Yeah," I said, "that's him: an old, indestructible lie. Who won't go to the hospital." I started to take another sip of my coffee, but I remembered the rest room on the bus, and thought better of it.

"John?" she said.

"What?"

"Do you have to go?"

"He asked for me," I said.

She looked at me steadily and didn't say a word.

"Yes," I said. "I have to go."

I got up then, and went into the living room and opened up the cabinet where we keep the liquor. There wasn't much in there: a bottle of Dry Sack and a bottle of brandy that Judith insisted we keep for company even though Judith didn't drink and we never entertained. Once there would have been a solid supply of bourbon, 101 proof Wild Turkey, but the stockpile was down to a single bottle that had been there so long it was dusty. I took the bottle out and wiped the dust away.

I heard her moving, leaving the kitchen and coming up behind me. She didn't say anything.

I reached into the back of the cabinet and felt around until I found the flask, a lovely thing of antique pewter, a gift to me from myself.

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Table of Contents

Contents

197903032330 (Saturday),
197903040700 (Sunday),
197903042100 (Sunday),
197903051900 (Monday),
197903062300 (Tuesday),
197903071030 (Wednesday),
197903110600 (Sunday),
197903120400 (Monday),
197903121800 (Monday),
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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(4)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

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2 Star

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1 Star

(4)

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2005

    Delightfully Disturbing

    Despite the long historian style descriptions this book was truly amazing. I was both delighted and disturbed at the end. I spent nights wide awake thinking of the lives of slaves and the horrors they encountered.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2003

    Finely crafted

    I learned a lot from this book and took all the information in eagerly, as it both furthered the plot and developed the characters. The book also resonants with the complexity of race relations in the US, both past and present.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2014

    So glad that I had the will to continue to read this marvelous

    piece of writing. The first couple of lengthy descriptive passages almost caused me miss out on a very compelling and extremely interesting book. A young historian is provided just enough curiousity and intellectual challenge to discover not only his roots but his personal value and place in our ever changing society.

    J M Lydon

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Neverending

    The long descriptive passages were awful. I normally like a historical novel but this was a real struggle to finish. Very difficult to follow and frankly, John just seemed like a big jerk.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    Don't do it

    This book was torturous in its prose, lack of continuity, and repetitive glorifying of brutality while hyperbolizing the mundane. A WASTE of my money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2013

    Sample

    The sample was so boring, I did not buy the book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2013

    Very boring.

    I couldn't finish it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    Thought provoking historical novel

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Highly recommended if you find historical novels interesting. Good explanations of the history behind the slave trade.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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