Yesterday Will Make You Cry

Chester B. Himes, Author, Melvin Van Peebles, Introduction by W. W. Norton & Company $25 (363p) ISBN 978-0-393-04577-2
Written in 1937, this was the late African American writer Himes's first novel. Its frank and graphic rendering of taboo topics effectively made it unpublishable at the time, however. The autobiographical narrative clearly pictures Depression-era prison brutality, and its frank and affecting depictions of prison-bound homosexual romantic love were too raw for contemporary audiences and its hybrid style--part pulp-crime novel, part introspective character study--ws also ahead of its time. Over the next 16 years, Himes was forced to revise the book four times, and a very different version was published in 1952 as Cast the First Stone. This edition restores the work to its original form and chronicles the directionless life of Jimmy Monroe, a smart loser born poor, white and rural, who bounces self-destructively through life until sentenced to 20 years in prison for robbery. Himes (who spent seven years in prison) masterfully presents the arbitrary violence (from both inmates and guards), the corruption, the regularity of unlamented death, the uneasy relations of the races and the psychological elongation of prison time (""Each moment was absolute, like a still photograph""). Yet it is the depiction of Monroe's love affairs--their comic absurdity, obsessive intensity and transformative emotional depth--with the manipulative Lively, and finally with the pathological but genuinely loving Rico, that mark the book as both a superior prison novel and a moving fictional record of the perseverance of humanity amidst unrelenting degradation. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 363 pages - 978-0-393-31829-6
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