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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 the Hardcover edition.
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
Ellison again brings us his paradigms on race relations in America, but this time, through an editor. John F. Read morePublished on May 20 2001 by Michael G. Mcneill
Let the thirteen page Introduction be a warning to anyone who dares venture beyond. Anyone who reads more the Introduction does so at his or her own peril. Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2001 by Doug
The idea of paternal reconciliation across race lines was what inspired me to choose this book for a summer read. Read morePublished on July 29 2000 by chikpea
This book gives you an interesting glimpse into what had the potential to be a truly masterful and brilliant novel. Read morePublished on June 27 2000 by David Lloyd
amazing. gives one a TON to think about...the language is unforgettable, and the story incredible. a masterpiece. Read morePublished on June 19 2000 by Paul Devlin
A wonderful beginning gives way to a mish-mash of verbiage. This is not a book, but a splice job of a book that was far from finished. Read morePublished on May 18 2000 by Coco Pazzo
I found the book a little too much for my liking. But the audio version(Blair Underwood-reader)excellant. He has a wonderful voice and captures the spirit of the story.Published on April 19 2000
Don't listen to the naysayers. If you love Ellison, you must read this. Albeit a diamond in the rough, it's all here: vivid characters in the round, profound feeling and... Read morePublished on March 13 2000