From Publishers Weekly
The publication of this behemoth compilation of Ellison's efforts toward his never-finished second novel is assuredly an event—readers will find much of what the author of Invisible Man
labored over for decades, and from which Juneteenth
was extracted. With multiple versions of and fragments from the massive work (assembled by editors John F. Callahan and Adam Bradley), this edition will have the greatest appeal to Ellison enthusiasts and scholars, as well as to readers interested in the punishing process of novelistic composition. This volume contains countless passages of breathtaking prose, touching upon America and its mystic motto of national purpose violently aflutter. The story that weaves through these drafts centers on the relationship between Alonzo Hickman, a black preacher, and the race-baiting senator raised by Hickman—Adam Sunraider, of ambiguous race, living as a white man and the object of an assassination plot. The sense of struggle and chaos, in terms of the nation's impossible desires and Ellison's creative drive, is chillingly palpable throughout. The editors have performed a true feat of literary archeology in gathering an astounding bulk of prose that's highly attuned to the deeply divided American condition. (Feb.)
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*Starred Review* Ellison’s eloquent, dreamlike writing fills more than 1,000 pages of this book, his long-awaited—still unfinished—novel after the acclaimed Invisible Man. Culled from Ellison’s drafts, his notes, and those of his wife, Fanny, this book brings together four decades of work, a portion of which was published posthumously as Juneteenth in 1999. The allegorical, lyrical novel is presented in three books in various stages of completion. It centers on the complex relationship between A. Z. Hickman, a blues musician turned preacher, and Bliss, an orphan of undetermined race, whom Hickman raises as a boy preacher. As a teen, Bliss runs off and develops his skills as a flimflammer, ultimately emerging in the U.S. Senate as Senator Sunraider. Hickman searches in vain for Bliss, but when he learns of a threat to Sunraider, the two are reunited in an orgy of reexamination of their lives and circuitous paths. Book 1 is a first-person narrative by McIntyre, a white reporter who witnesses the shooting of Sunraider on the floor of the Senate and the attempt by Hickman to save a man known as a charismatic race-baiter. Book 2, the basis for Juneteenth, traces the relationship between Hickman and Bliss/Sunraider through a dialogue between them, an inner reflection of their coming together and their falling apart. Book 3 includes several fragments of earlier portions of the novel, deeper character portrayals, and alternative paths of action as Ellison struggled to bring all the pieces together. He is masterful at evoking the language of common black folks, preachers, press and politicians, and charlatans and flimflammers. Because of its length and construction, this book demands that readers be students of Ellison and his writing process, willing to appreciate and stay with a sometimes confusing cast of characters and a nonlinear plot, to imagine how the parts fit together. An incredible novel of identity and authenticity, sin and atonement. --Vanessa Bush