Percival Everett

    It is one of the most profound, and entertaining, questions we can ask: what if? The idea of taking that untaken road – which ya can’t cause ya didn’t - allows us to wrestle and play with the paradoxical polarities and of fate and free (that manage, somehow, to curve round and meet in the middle.

    Top Ten contributor Percival Everett is the latest distinguished writer to ask this question in his 33rd (34th and 35th) published book – the novel “Telephone.” As James Yeh explained in the New York Times:

    Once you’ve finished “Telephone,” the latest book by Percival Everett, you may be talking about it with another reader and finding that you disagree on what happened.

    That is intentional.

    “There are three different versions of this novel, they’re all published identically, and you can’t know which one you’re getting,” Everett said during a video interview from his home in Los Angeles. With an apologetic chuckle, he added: “It’s going to piss a lot of people off, I’m afraid.” …

    The differences between the editions, which begin with the colophon, include extended or altered scenes and three distinct endings. The cover designs are nearly identical, but if you look closely, you can spot the differences.

    How much changes because of the choices we make? How much stays the same because really how much difference can you make? Everett is too smart to provide definitive answers – but he helps you think.

    Everett’s publisher explains that “Telephone ( 1, 2 &3) tells the story of “Zach Wells, a perpetually dissatisfied geologist-slash-paleobiologist. Expert in a very narrow area—the geological history of a cave forty-four meters above the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon—he is a laconic man who plays chess with his daughter, trades puns with his wife while she does yoga, and dodges committee work at the college where he teaches. After a field trip to the desert yields nothing more than a colleague with a tenure problem and a student with an unwelcome crush on him, Wells returns home to find his world crumbling. His daughter has lost her edge at chess, has developed mysterious eye problems, and her memory has lost its grasp. Powerless in the face of his daughter’s slow deterioration, he finds a mysterious note asking for help tucked into the pocket of a jacket he’s ordered off eBay. Desperate for someone to save, he sets off to New Mexico in secret on a quixotic rescue mission.

    Reviewing the novel for the Los Angeles Times, Lorraine Berry observed:

    One of the subthemes of “Telephone” is the extent to which the accidents of our birth — especially gender or race — shape the choices we are allowed to make. …  Zach’s interactions with all the women he encounters — his colleague, his student, his wife, his daughter and eventually the sender of the note — reveal that the gulf between our intentions and actions is in fact not the space where we exert control over what happens to us. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” the proverb insists, but it makes no allowance for the beggar’s riding skills or the horse’s compliance. Action meets fickle reality. …

    As an atheist, Zach rejects all notions of a god in control of fate. As a scientist, he tests his explanations against his data — his way of trying to “know” the world. But what if knowledge ends up paralyzing us? Perhaps “Telephone” is not about choice but about the stories we tell ourselves about choice.

    Everett’s three “Telephone” novels test emotional and philosophical truths by exploring whether any of Zach’s choices can help him wrest control of a narrative intent on breaking his heart. Can he offset one harmful decision by making a better, unrelated one? And who keeps the balance sheet in such a universe? “I hated the notion of redemption,” Zach thinks in this moment of crisis. “But here I was in the world, in this world. I would do something.” As he discovers, not all redemption stories go according to plan.

    Whaddaya know!

    New List

    Maxine Hong Kingston

    1. Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer (1968).
    2. Begin Again by Grace Paley (2000)
    3. Duty of Delight by Dorothy Day (2008)
    4. Every War Has Two Losers by William Stafford (2003)
    5. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Nguyen (2016).
    6. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (1992)
    7. A Primer for Forgetting by Lewis Hyde (2019)
    8. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
    9. Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, edited by Maxine Hong Kingston
    10. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges (2002)



     

    Classic List

    Top Ten African-American Works

    1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952). 
    2. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). 
    3. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977). 
    4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). 
    5. Native Son by Richard Wright (1945). 
    6. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959). 
    7. Another Country by James Baldwin (1962). 
    8. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923). 
    9. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (1990). 
    10. Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (1965). 

     





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