'Long Day In November' Back Again After Long Time Gone

Nov 25, 2013
Originally published on November 25, 2013 5:05 pm
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We have a review now of an old book reissued. It's by the great Southern writer Ernest J. Gaines who's best known for the novel "A Lesson Before Dying." More than four decades ago, he wrote a book for young readers called "A Long Day in November." It's being re-released with the story's original illustrations and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: One morning in November, sometime before World War II in the worker's quarters of an old Louisiana sugar cane plantation, a young boy named Sonny wakes up to find his little world falling apart. I don't know who's calling me, he says, but it must be Momma because I'm home. I don't know who it is because I'm still asleep, but it must be Momma.

She's shaking me by the foot. She's holding my ankle through the cover. Momma's upset. Sonny's father, Eddie, her husband, a cane cutter, has been out all night in his precious car that's cost him $300. Momma, Amy, decides she's played second fiddle to the car long enough. Over the course of this long day in November, the story of a boy's troubled family, problems with marriage and work, ignorance and education emerge, all in Sonny's simple, but distinctive voice.

When he returns from a bad morning at the plantation schoolhouse, he follows his momma to her mother's house. Amy's not going home unless Eddie mends his ways, though the grieving and befuddled cane cutter has scarcely any idea of what he has to do to win her back, at least not until he hands over $3 for advice from the plantation's old conjure woman, Madam Toussaint(ph).

Sonny tells this story in his own limited range of language, mostly by means of dialogue, the effect of which because of this young boy's deep feelings about both his troubled parents becomes quite moving. Gaines wrote this story for kids, but it deserves a much wider audience.

BLOCK: Alan Cheuse reviewed the re-release of "A Long Day in November" by Ernest J. Gaines. Alan teaches writing at George Mason University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.