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Three Days Before the Shooting . . . (Modern Library) Hardcover – January 26, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; First Edition edition (January 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759536
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,723,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm about half way through this wonderful collection. This is a very frustrating book because you can see how close Ellson got to finishing what would have been his masterpiece. It reminds me of All the Kings Men, it's that good. It's snowing outside. No school. Coffee. An unfinished epic. Life is good.
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Format: Hardcover
Ralph Ellison, it turns out, lived the plot of a mid-'60s novel: a little known author and musician, he published his first book at the age of 39. "Invisible Man" was both critically acclaimed and a bestseller. Ellison won the National Book Award, the first black writer to be awarded the most prestigious award in American literature. Now world-famous, Ellison announced in interviews that he had already begun work on his follow-up novel. For the next four decades he labored on that second novel - but he died in 1994 at the age of 80, and the literary waiting game ended too: His anxiously awaited second work of fiction would never be finished, never be published.

Yet now we have "Three Days Before the Shooting," a massive volume that compiles all the lengthy interlocking segments of the manuscript, along with other fragmentary alternate versions of the story. Editors John F. Callahan and Adam Bradley have performed a labor of love, devotion and mind-numbing scholarship: They have combed through Ellison's countless handwritten papers and computer discs to knit together a coherent, cohesive and lumberingly powerful book by one of the United States' preeminent writers.

The story involves the assassination of a race-baiting U.S. senator with a peculiar past. As a "little boy of indefinite race," Senator Sunraider was raised in rural Georgia by Alonzo Hickman, a one-time jazz player turned preacher. Well, that's the basic set-up of the story, anyway. What we actually have is a turning, twisting narrative that can't stop itself from spiraling outward to other characters, other voices, till the story begins to evoke a tapestry of 20th century American passions and madness -- a vast cloth with holes in the weaving whose ragged thread ends were never tied off.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Those who have read IVM have hungered forever for more Ellison. The problem was that he never finished his second novel. This fact (and its length) dissuaded me from even thinking about reading "Three Days." Let me assure you that it is a must read, if for nothing else than for "Bliss's Birth," one of the most moving sections of literature that I have every read. While the novel is, in fact, "incomplete," much of its incompleteness concerns the order of episodes and their transitions. The story is complete enough for even a careless reader to get a fantastic understanding of what was intended. I initially was persuaded to try this read by reading Adam Bradley's "Ellison in Progress" also another amazing read. This, coupled with "Juneteenth" and its hints from the Ellison archives were enough to convince me to give it a try. I was not disappointed. The fact that it is not finished and polished and the fact that some scenes are given in different drafts does not encumber the volume, and one must read the entire volume; it's definitely worth it.
I think that the reader, familiar with Ellison, will find a different tone in this book. This is more serious, a little less of the not-quite-surrealistic Ellison that sometimes is present in IVM. While some of the scenes are indeed raucous and outright hysterical, one, nevertheless, sees a perhaps more serious intent in the whole.
While the length is initially intimidating, the volume is excellently bound. As it emerges episodically, but not picaresquely, the story is so fascinating as to make the volume difficult to put aside, even for sleep.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am well into Book 11 of "Three Days before the Shooting" and I am astounded by its overall power as a novel. After "Juneteenth", the editors got it just right this time round. Here we see Ellison at his fullest strength, delving deeply into the meanings and experience of blackness, and the complex of a broader American nativity tempered in the aesthetic sensibilities and religious expressiveness that African Americans bring to it. This surely is Ellison's answer to Joyce's "Ulysses". The traces of Joyce's influence (as far as I've read) clearly occupy both the surfaces and undercurrents of this work. It's a pity that Ellison never had the courage to complete it and publish it. I do wonder if he held on to manuscript and incessantly rewrote it without bringing it to public light, because of a deepseated fear of being vilified as a black writer trying to be overly ambitious. And "Three Days before the Shooting" has, in fact, all the signs of drive and transcendental aspiration that one expects from great and far-reaching prose. This work takes everything on board, from the sounds and rhythms of jazz, the idiomatic styles of African American religous oratory, race relations in America, the burdened history of black identity in America, and experimentation in streams of conscouisness as an unsettling narrative mode. In "Three Days before the Shooting" my guess is that we have one of the first and finest classics of the 21st century.
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