cover image Divine Days

Divine Days

Leon Forrest. Another Chicago Press, $32.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-929968-24-7

With enormous energy and an uncanny range of oral styles--from high-flown preaching to down-and-dirty slang--this remarkable fourth novel by Forrest ( Two Wings to Veil My Face ) takes more than 1100 pages to recount one week in the life of Joubert Jones, an aspiring playwright who has just returned to his home on Chicago's South Side after two years in the Army. Much of Jones's time is spent with the ``zany denizens'' of his Aunt Eloise's Night Light Lounge--a spectrum of humanity that includes drunkards, mystics, policemen and other spinners of tall tales--which was once the location for ``Divine Days,'' the religious revival house of con man and preacher W.A.D. Ford. ``Hypersensitively attuned to the sound of voices, babblings, other-worldlysic and worldly tongues,'' Jones has written a play about Ford's ``mysterious ritual services'' and is now bent on chronicling the memory of his older friend Sugar-Groove, a traveling raconteur whose earthy adventures, told to a young Jones, masked a different kind of spirituality than that suggested by Ford. The novel is meant to be a ``long-tongue saga'' touching on every aspect of African American life in the mid-1960s. In presenting life's ``connective patterns'' primarily through speeches, Forrest's work is more reminiscent of Henry Miller's obsessive narratives and Toni Morrison's mythic languages than James Joyce's internal explorations. Yet what ultimately allows Forrest to sustain a reader's interest throughout is his determination not only to show a range of oral styles, but to allow each and every character to demonstrate a sophisticated ease with all of these styles, using African American language and subject matter ``to create a synthesis out of all nightmares that our experiences kept throwing up at us.'' This is dazzling, dizzying, demanding and highly recommended. (June) .