Voices From the Dead!

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Voices From the Dead!

Novels Published Posthumously

The first four of the five novels listed, were not published in the well-known author’s lifetimes. The exception is the fifth book because it was first published as a magazine serial by an anonymous author and would have languished in obscurity, save for an accidental discovery. Many readers will recognize the names of the other authors: Louisa May Alcott, James M. Caine, Claude McKay and Irene Némirovsky.
 
A Long Fatal Love Chase (1995) by Louisa May Alcott
Due to the scandalous nature of A Long and Fatal Love Chase, the manuscript remained buried among the papers of Louisa May Alcott for over a century. Alcott was a believer in women’s rights, but as she was in the vanguard and pushed the boundaries of her lifetime for what was expected. For this reason, its publication was impossible while she lived.

This book is perfect for those readers who enjoy love stories with darker elements such as violence and fear. Readers are in for an emotional roller-coaster ride. I confess, I am not much of a fan of Louisa May Alcott's more famous writings because they were always for me, too sickeningly wholesome. However, A Long Fatal Love Chase surprisingly shows that Alcott was capable of edgier topics and darker themes.
 
The Cocktail Waitress (2012) by James M. Cain
Cain wrote and rewrote multiple versions of The Cocktail Waitress until his death. He started writing the novel in 1975 when the crime fiction icon had relocated from Los Angeles to Hyattsville, MD. He passed away two years later and his manuscript remained lost. Efforts to recover the novel resulted in the discovery of not only a complete manuscript but several, though undated. Unlike a lot of posthumously published fiction, there was a finished product. How finished remains open to debate in what does at times read like a rough draft.

Cain’s genius as a writer is that a good portion of the book just seems to be a hard luck woman struggling to overcome her circumstances that includes people’s lowered opinions of her because she shows cleavage for tips. And yet Joan’s first person narration creates a perception that she’s just a decent practical woman trying overcome circumstances that are no fault of her own and manages to gain the reader’s sympathy until the point where you ask yourself: Is she “gas lighting” the reader the entire time? Is the reader just as much of a “mark” or an easy target as are the customer’s whom Joan charms for tips? Or is it really just a lot of bad luck that casts Joan in a poor light?

Amiable with Big Teeth : A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem (2017) by Claude McKay 
The unexpected discovery in 2012 of a completed manuscript for Amiable with Big Teeth : A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, Claude McKay's final novel is an addition to the Harlem Renaissance literary oeuvre. I can see why this novel stayed unpublished for many years. It doesn't fit neatly into any of the obvious categories that were available to African American writers at the time (if they wanted to be published!). It is a possible reason why the completed novel went unpublished for so long.
 
This is a complex, satirical, political novel that takes place mainly in Harlem circa 1936, concerning the movement of Harlem intellectuals in support of Ethiopia against Mussolini's invasion in the mid-thirties.  This was one of the first important Black political movements since the betrayal of Reconstruction. As fiction it does not neatly line up with the historical timeline. Also the characters seem to be an amalgam of various different figures from history. McKay is not a communist, but faced a difficulty with criticism of Stalin without falling into anti-communist sentiment, and McKay sometimes crosses into that territory. However, contrary to what is expected of anti-communist authors, he does not present the Stalinists as fanatical revolutionaries, but more as bureaucrats who are seek to subordinate independent movements.

Suite Francaise: A Novel (2004) by Irene Némirovsky
Suite Francaise: A Novel is a stunning achievement, but the story of how it came to be written is almost as compelling as the novel itself. Némirovsky is a participant in the nightmarishly, dreamlike reality of occupied France by the Wehrmacht that began in 1940. This is a fictional account of World War II as it was happening. The novel itself and its observations are a prelude to the darkest hours in the Second World War, yet with complete unawareness of what is yet to come.
 
Némirovsky began writing this novel while simultaneously experiencing Nazi occupation. She and her family had lived in Paris but were forced to flee when German troops invaded the city. Most of the country was in fact, occupied. She moved to a French village and tried to survive amidst the harsh new laws concerning anyone of Jewish decent. Under these conditions, as an already established writer, she could no longer publish her works, could not cash checks, or travel freely. Her life and freedom, as well as those of her spouse and children were threatened on a daily basis.

When Washington Was in Vogue: A Love Story (2004) by Edward Christopher Williams
This work was originally serialized in The Messenger, an early 20th-century political and literary magazine by and for African American people in the United States. It was important to the flowering of the Harlem Renaissance and initially promoted a socialist political view. The Messenger was co-founded in New York City by Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph in 1917. The original title of the novel was “The Letters of Davy Carr: A True Story of Colored Vanity Fair.”  With Dr. Adam McKible’s (now associate professor at The City University of New York) editorial oversight, the collection was published as a whole novel in 2003 by HarperCollins. It is almost certainly the first epistolary novel written by an African American. It establishes Williams as a Harlem Renaissance writer, and as an innovator in the African American literary canon. For those interested in American society in the 1920s and in the African American bourgeoisie in particular, this book may be worth reading. The introduction to the book outlines the book's significance in the field of Harlem Renaissance studies (i.e., the book is set in Washington, DC, not New York, with no white characters at all).
 
In addition to examining foibles of the Black bourgeoisie, the author tackles some community issues. After spending time with this milieu, the protagonist concludes that he is among the society of the wealthiest individuals around town, but an acquaintance points out that the professions of this crowd could not afford the lifestyles of which they boast. Williams also makes the point that these self-proclaimed, crème de la crème of Black Washington are ignorant about matters of importance: While the “elitists” socialize at the annual football classic between Hampton and Howard Universities and related festivities, an Anti-Lynching Bill is dying in Congress. The book goes on to address the African American intra-racial color line, passing as white and also delves into women’s issues. Even though a love story does play out in the book, the lack of eligible bachelors is an age-old problem. The more things change, the more they stay the same.