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Or would it? Ellison's literary executor, John Callahan, has now quarried a smaller, more coherent work from all that raw material. Gone are the epic proportions that Ellison so clearly envisioned. Instead, Juneteenth revolves around just two characters: Adam Sunraider, a white, race-baiting New England senator, and Alonzo "Daddy" Hickman, a black Baptist minister who turns out to have a paradoxical (and paternal) relationship to his opposite number. As the book opens, Sunraider is delivering a typically bigoted peroration on the Senate floor when he's peppered by an assassin's bullets. Mortally wounded, he summons the elderly Hickman to his bedside. There the two commence a journey into their shared past, which (unlike the rest of 1950s America) represents a true model of racial integration.
Adam, we discover, was born Bliss, and raised by Hickman in the bosom of the black community. What's more, this rabble-rouser was being groomed as a boy minister. ("I tell you, Bliss," says Hickman, "you're going to make a fine preacher and you're starting at just the right age. You're just a little over six and Jesus Christ himself didn't start until he was twelve.") The portion of Juneteenth that covers Bliss's ecclesiastical education--perhaps a third of the entire book--is as electrifying as anything in Invisible Man. Ellison juggles the multiple ironies of race and religion with effortless brilliance, and his delight in Hickman's house-wrecking rhetoric is contagious:
Bliss, I've heard you cutting some fancy didoes on the radio, but son, Eatmore was romping and rampaging and walking through Jerusalem just like John! Oh, but wasn't he romping! Maybe you were too young to get it all, but that night that mister was ten thousand misters and his voice was pure gold.In comparison, though, the rest of the novel seems like pretty slim pickings. For one thing, much of the plot--including Bliss's transformation from pint-sized preacher to United States senator--is absent. For another, Ellison's confinement of the two top-billed players to a hospital room makes for an awfully static narrative. Granted, he intended their dialogue to exist "on a borderline between the folk poetry and religious rhetoric" (or so he wrote in his notes). But this is a dicey recipe for a novel, and Juneteenth veers between naturalism and hallucination much less effectively than its predecessor did.
None of this is to assail Ellison's artistry, which remains on ample display. The problem is that Callahan's splice job--which well may be the best one possible--remains weak at the seams. So should readers give Juneteenth a miss? The answer would still have to be no. The best parts are as powerful and necessary as anything in our literature, evoking Daddy Hickman's own brand of verbal enchantment. "I was talking like I always talk," he recalls at one point, "in the same old down-home voice, that is, in the beloved idiom... [and] I preached those five thousand folks into silence." Ellison, too, is capable of preaching the reader into silence--and that's not something we can afford to overlook. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Yes, THE Ralph Ellison has a novel on freedom, published posthumously in 1999. A fascinating tale of the attempted assassination of Senator Bliss Sunraider who passes for white and... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jozef Syndicate
Bought this book for an Ellison class. Don't remember much about it but I definitely remember it not be better than "Invisible Man".Published 19 months ago by Jamar Burger
This book is an amazing way to learn more about black culture and history through story. It is important to hear the viewpoint from a different angle and realize what has really... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Susan A. Verbalis
An excellent book. I had read it earlier. The books recently purchased were gifts for friends who had not read novelPublished on April 13, 2013 by Avid Reader
A novel about the truth as seen through the eyes of a fiction--indeed, the truth, to Ellison, was always suspect to the lie and again, as in the phrase the emancipation myth, where... Read morePublished on February 22, 2006 by Kevin B. Moses
A little known book. This could be the American novel that transends time and place. The characters and descriptions are of the depth that is rarely described in modern literature.Published on August 25, 2005 by Julia A. Weeks
This could well be the great American Novel that was anticipated. The ideas are powerful and cross racial bounderies. Ellison is a master and re-creates moods with skill. Read morePublished on December 11, 2004 by Donald F. Dawson
Although Ralph Ellison's prose is masterfully, I found the body of work within Juneteenth to be disjointed and nonlinear in scope. Read morePublished on April 14, 2004