The name of the book I finished last night is “The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones” by Jesse Hill Ford. Published in 1965 and set in a small Tennessee town during the early 1960’s, Ford gives an unflinching look at racial attitudes, beliefs and customs of the time. Ford was touted as the next Faulkner because of his honest and accurate portrayal of southern black and white characters. Yes there is sex and violence but everything in the story, which contains many scenes I could relate to based on growing up in the “rural” south, is secondary to the theme of race. Much of the setting and some of the characters were based on Ford’s real life experiences. Columbia Pictures released the story as a movie in 1970 titled “The Liberation of L.B. Jones” with a cast of immediately recognizable stars. At that point Ford began to feel the wrath of his hometown neighbors, some of whom were not impressed with how they had been portrayed. (apparently they hadn’t read the book beforehand but we southerners aren’t considered very “literate” you know) Because of vandalism to his property Ford began keeping a loaded gun close at hand and one night ended up killing a black man who had come onto Ford’s property. (irony, based on how Ford’s life compares to what he wrote, is the only word that fits)
So why did I choose Jess Hill Ford’s book? Back in 1997 I read an article about Ford, his life and recent suicide in an Esquire magazine. Sometime later I was browsing thru stacks of used books in a thrift store in Clover, SC when I recognized the title. Ended up paying one dollar for what turned out to be an “advance reading” copy. Saving both the Esquire mag and the book is just the type of thing I do when a subject interests me. Waiting 7+ years to read a book is “normal”, right?
Next up is “V.” by Thomas Pynchon and I measure the delay for that one in decades, not years.