cover image Meteor in the Madhouse

Meteor in the Madhouse

Leon Forrest. Triquarterly Books, $26.95 (273pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-5114-7

Like 1999's publication of Juneteenth, this novel is a literary event: seminal African-America writer Leon Forrest (1937-1997) is not as well-known as Ralph Ellison, but during his lifetime he elicited high praise from such figures as Stanley Crouch and Toni Morrison. Forrest's masterwork, Divine Days, introduced the successful dramatist and professor Joubert Jones, who here narrates the five interconnected novellas riffs on his memories during the day of his death in November 1992. The characters all have roots in the south, in Forrest County, Miss., but have long gone north, to Forest County, Ill. (a stand-in for Chicago). The stories are held together thematically by Joubert's memory of Novembers past, such as one in 1972 when Marvella Gooseberry, a neighbor of his adoptive grandmother, Gram Gussie Jones, ""flipped her wig"" and threatened to shoot herself and others with a gun; the November he visited his friend and rival, Leonard Foster, in the state mental hospital; and the November day when his great-aunt Lucasta Jones was abandoned by her lover, Tucson. In the final novella, Joubert's fatal visit to Williemain's Barbershop, where he is killed in a drive-by shooting, is recounted. On the scaffolding of these memories and events, Forrest hangs a multitude of anecdotes and moments of almost musical verbal invention. The inspired comic moments include an extended piece recounting Joubert's escape from a cult group led by Foster in the Holiday Inn, a cab ride with a white amateur boxer and her black girlfriend, and the strange dental practices of his Gram Gussie Jones. While Forrest's talent is undeniable, readers may find themselves out of the loop, plot-wise; his editors have included a helpful appendix that summarizes the narrative. (Mar.)