In the wake of his watershed novel Divine Days, Leon Forest began an even more ambitious project, a collection of novellas that he hoped would be the culmination of his life’s work and of the fictional world of Forest County, which he had created in his five earlier novels. Although slowed by devastating illness in 1997, Forrest’s labor on his masterwork continued; while the novel assumed a focus tighter than he had originally intended, Forrest felt just before his untimely death that he had succeeded in bringing a unified vision to the manuscript of Meteor in the Madhouse. Meteor in the Madhouse is a novel made up of five interconnected novellas framed by an account of the last days in the life of journalist Joubert Antoine Jones, a character immortalized in Divine Days. The central relationship in the novel is that of Joubert and his adoptive kin and fellow writer Leonard Foster. A symbol of the struggle for freedom and equality, Leonard’s search for truth — leading him into political agitation, cultish religion, and eventual death from drug addiction — immerses Joubert in feelings of guilt and frustration when he is unable to save his friend and mentor. As Joubert reflects on Leonard’s death, he is both haunted and rejuvenated by the characters and episodes of their shared past. We meet the women in Joubert’s life: foster mother Lucasta Jones, whose aesthetic and erotic potential goes unfulfilled; Lucasta’s sister Gussie, irrepressible in her zest for life; and Jessie Ma Fay Battle Barker, known for her indomitable spirit and largesse. Joubert recalls his visits with Leonard and Leonard’s further breakdown in the face of humorous memories from their youth: the behavior of theDeep Brown Study Eggheads who inhabited the wonderfully diverse rooming house near Joubert’s alma mater; and the characters fre- quenting Fountain’s House of the Dead — a funeral home by day and a brothel by night. As Joubert and his relations tackle the forces of love, lust, alcohol, drugs, violence, and family, Joubert becomes the symbol of the soul’s search for authenticity. With introductions by editors John G. Cawelti and Merle Drown, Meteor in the Madhouse emerges as Forrest’s most vivid portrayal of the great diversity of urban African American life.
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