"This rich and wonderful work is Forrest's Dubliners. . . . Bringing this novel together is one of the great comic gifts in twentieth-century literature . . . but taken to many places even great Joyce could not go. Like Joyce, Forrest was well aware that the belly laugh and the most bitter moment of tragedy are forever twinned." Stanley Crouch, New York Times Book Review
"I was, to put it mildly, deeply moved that in his last days, terribly weakened, his words rang true and so strong." Studs Terkel
"He spoke and wrote out of the conflicted heart of Chicago but found a transcendent emotional jurisprudence in the heart and soul of the blues/jazz idiom that was his birthright from the bars and juke joints that shaped his perspective on the human condition." James Alan McPherson
An adventurous masterwork that provides our literature with a signal moment.
( New York Times Book Review)
Like 1999's publication of Juneteenth, this novel is a literary event: seminal African-America writer Leon Forrest (1937-1997) is not as well-known as Ralph Ellison, but during his lifetime he elicited high praise from such figures as Stanley Crouch and Toni Morrison. Forrest's masterwork, Divine Days, introduced the successful dramatist and professor Joubert Jones, who here narrates the five interconnected novellas riffs on his memories during the day of his death in November 1992. The characters all have roots in the south, in Forrest County, Miss., but have long gone north, to Forest County, Ill. (a stand-in for Chicago). The stories are held together thematically by Joubert's memory of Novembers past, such as one in 1972 when Marvella Gooseberry, a neighbor of his adoptive grandmother, Gram Gussie Jones, "flipped her wig" and threatened to shoot herself and others with a gun; the November he visited his friend and rival, Leonard Foster, in the state mental hospital; and the November day when his great-aunt Lucasta Jones was abandoned by her lover, Tucson. In the final novella, Joubert's fatal visit to Williemain's Barbershop, where he is killed in a drive-by shooting, is recounted. On the scaffolding of these memories and events, Forrest hangs a multitude of anecdotes and moments of almost musical verbal invention. The inspired comic moments include an extended piece recounting Joubert's escape from a cult group led by Foster in the Holiday Inn, a cab ride with a white amateur boxer and her black girlfriend, and the strange dental practices of his Gram Gussie Jones. While Forrest's talent is undeniable, readers may find themselves out of the loop, plot-wise; his editors have included a helpful appendix that summarizes the narrative. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A modest posthumous addition to the legacy of a significant African-American writer: five novellas connected by the first-person narration of Joubert Antoine Jones, protagonist of Forrest's earlier novel Divine Days (1992). At the close of Divine Days, Joubert fled his family for the University of Chicago and a career as a writer and journalist. Now we encounter him in 1992, an established professor and playwright troubled by memories of his friend and adoptive cousin, Leonard Foster. Back in 1972, Joubert recalls in "Live! At Fountain's House of the Dead," he attempted to rescue Leonard, an unsuccessful poet and writer descended into madness, with shared childhood recollections. Forrest (1937-97) characteristically mingles life and death here in Joubert's anecdote about the first wake he attended as a boy, in a funeral parlor by day that served as brothel by night. But Leonard is unresponsive to Joubert and ultimately dies forgotten in an asylum. The woman who raised both men gets her own novella, "Lucasta Jones in Solitude: Lives Left in Her Wake," which displays both her languid, aesthetic exoticism and her desperate inability to hold love close. By contrast, Lucasta's sister, Gussie, is a staid, benevolent woman of simple faith and boundless hope. After a plentitude of rich recollections and plump, warm reverie, Joubert is mortally wounded in a gang-related shooting; his lingering death scene suffers somewhat from a purple tinge. Nonetheless, these short fictions fill in gaps and explore secondary characters important to a comprehensive understanding of Forrest's art. A foreword by Forrest's widow and critical apparatus by friends John G. Cawelti and Merle Drowndon'tespecially enhance our understanding of the work at hand, but they're harmless expressions of enthusiastic advocacy. Though occasionally clumsy in style and execution, this impressionistic collage will be cherished by admirers of Forrest's lifelong effort to engage in fiction the African-American legacy of personal reinvention and loss.