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"James" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

The ingenuity, heart and craftsmanship of “James” left me aghast in amazement. Author Percival Everett, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, will have readers lauding his newest, a riveting tale that imagines the perilous life of Jim, the runaway slave in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” a sequel to Twain’s classic, “Tom Sawyer.”

Both boys are back in Everett’s splendid rendering of “James,” but only the slave and plucky Huck brave the perils of the Mississippi, staying the course—their courage, empathy and goodness tested on an odyssey that would break the spirits of less determined, heroic characters.

It’s clear from the onset, that Tom and Huck are burrs under James’ saddle. The boys antagonize Jim, who lives on a Missouri plantation with his wife Sadie and Lizzie, their daughter.

Huck and Tom “…were always playing some kind of pretending game where (Jim) was either a villain or prey, but certainly their toy.”

Though Jim is sometimes a plaything for the boys, going along with them on a joke from time to time, the yoke of enslavement weighs heavy on Jim—being the property of someone else—being whipped on a whim without the slightest provocation. Jim can read, in fact he loves books, but he must hide his literacy skills, no owner wants an educated slave in pre-Civil War times.

In some ways, Huck is enslaved too. The neglected son of an alcoholic father, the only attention Huck gets is when his father beats and mistreats him. Huck knows no other treatment but mistreatment, and he runs wild, spending as much time as he can on the banks of the Mississippi—a river that might provide a ticket to freedom, as it might for Jim, or at least an escape from those threatening to capture the pair whose lives are thrown together after an unexpected turn of events.

By water and by foot Jim and Huck make their getaway, as one amazing adventure after another unfurls and a plethora of ragtag characters make their debut—flim-flam men, would-be kings and dauphins, sympathetic slaves, overseers with bullwhips and the like buffet the unlikely pair on a river trip sure to keep readers glued to the page.

“James” is an incredible read, a novel that deals with racism in squirm-worthy scenes certain to illicit feelings of disgust with Crackers bent on breaking the spirits of the enslaved. While poignant and sad, Percival also shows great wit in his clever writing, providing comedic relief just when it’s needed to lighten our load as Jim and Huck wend their way home—to an uncertain future.

This is a thrilling book certain to garner awards and be added to countless “must-read lists.” It’s deserving of all the accolades it’s sure to receive.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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