Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File

John Edgar Wideman. Scribner, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4728-9
Of 96 servicemen executed by the U.S. military during World War II, 83 were African-American—one of whom was Louis Till, hanged on July 2, 1945, for rape and murder. He was the father of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955. Louis’s confidential military service record was made available to serve the defense of Emmett’s murderers. In establishing the junction between these two deaths, Wideman (Brothers and Keepers) employs a montage of multiple narrative voices, some first person, some through an omniscient author; “I assume,” he writes, “the risk of allowing my fiction to enter people’s true stories.” Loosely moored by his diligent pursuit of relevant documents, his reportage and recollection alternate and merge with hypothetical encounters with Emmett’s mother and Wideman’s own father, an account of a family Thanksgiving dinner, excerpts of trial records, memories of Wideman’s first girlfriend, and mentions of Wideman’s son, who is imprisoned for murder. An overriding theme connects it all: the way that America’s criminal justice system historically and currently harms African-Americans. “Whether or not Till breaks the law,” Wideman argues, “his existence is viewed by the law as a problem.” Wideman’s experimental narrative ultimately leaves the reader adrift, though aware that a valuable record is buried in there somewhere. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/22/2016
Release date: 11/15/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-5011-4730-2
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