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 Drown don’t especially 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.