THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING by Ralph Ellison
Kirkus Star

THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING

KIRKUS REVIEW

The unfinished second novel from Invisible Man author Ellison, an edited version of which appeared in 1999 under the title Juneteenth.

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City in 1914, seven years before the so-called Tulsa Race War would erupt. He left as soon as he could. In 1953, after Invisible Man made him famous, he wrote to a friend about his plans to travel home: “I’ve got to get real mad again, and talk with the old folks a bit. I’ve gone one Okla. book in me I do believe.” Three Days is that book, and he spent the next 40 years working on it, never finishing—but along the way making a Rashomon of an apparently simple story line that deepens as it progresses. Editors Callahan and Bradley gather the vast manuscript that Ellison left, including his plans for the book and queries to himself: “What is the tragic mistake? And who makes it? As things stand we do begin before one tragic mistake, that of the Senator’s, when he refuses to see Hickman and company.” The Senator is a blustering bigot who, having taken his seat in the U.S. Senate, now impedes progressive legislation—but who has a quite explosive secret that involves a crusading African-American preacher whom the Senator’s suitably racist secretary refers to as “the nigra Hickman.” Hickman, parts King and parts Sharpton, is deft at sprinkling his specific here-and-now demands with citations from otherworldly authorities (“The Scriptures tell us that in life we are in death, and in death there is life”), but Senator and secretary take no heed. Alas, that’s a mistake. Ellison sets his figures walking down long but eventually convergent paths, and though he did not live to finish his book, what he left is filled with sharply realized visions of ordinary life—wonderful descriptions of such things as “cold lemonade with the cakes of ice in them sitting out under the cool of the trees”—and careful studies of people as they speak and as they are, both tragic and comic.

A fascinating look inside Ellison’s methods and concerns as a writer—and a great story as well.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-375-75953-6
Page count: 1136pp
Publisher: Modern Library
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2009




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