By Edward P. Jones
Edward P. Jones is old-school. Like Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Faulkner, Hurston, Austen, Ellison are old-school. Master setters of scene, possessors of startling psychological acuity, storytelling writers whose best prose achieves a nearly seamless representational realism. Old-school writers endure because their insights into people's hearts, their meticulous observations of nature and society seem taken directly from the eternal Wheel of Life human beings have been riding and getting tossed off of before the beginning of recorded history. Plot-driven, compelling narratives compounded of slices of felt life: Yes, yes, the reader hollers, that's just how it goes.
To begin to understand slavery and free ourselves from its evil legacy, Jones tells us, we must not only attempt to put ourselves in a slave's shoes (or no shoes) but also imagine owning slaves or being a slave's slave or a slave master who once was a slave. Like all old-school writers, Jones reminds us that until our time on earth ends, the best we can hope for is gradual emancipation from desires of body and soul enslaving us.