A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines

A Long Day in November by Ernest J. GainesA Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines
Published: Lizzie Skurnick Books (1971), Paperback, 160pg
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

One morning, six-year old Sonny is awoken by his crying mother, who tells him that, come tomorrow morning, they are leaving to go to "Gran'mom's" house—without Sonny's father, Eddie. Later that morning, Sonny witnesses a fight between his parents, which revolves around his father having stayed out late the night before because his car had broken down. Eddie has apparently been neglecting his wife and son, devoting his free time instead to repairing his old car. In order to win back his wife, Eddie—with Sonny in tow—pays a visit to Madame Toussaint, an old lady knowledgeable in the ways of voodoo, who tells Eddie that the only way to save his marriage is by burning his car to the ground.

This unforgettable story leads the reader through an eventful day on a Southern sugarcane plantation, and shows, through the eyes of a child, what life was like in the rural South of the 1940s. This new edition of A Long Day in November features Ernest J. Gaines's original introduction, as well as the black-and-white illustrations that accompanied the first edition of the book.

I’ll be honest: I picked up A Long Day in November solely because the version in my library is the one published by Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint I am much in love with because it republishes favorite and forgotten teen literature from bygone days. I was lured in by the cover, basically.

Now forget the cover, because the insides are what’s important and they are pretty darned good. It’s a semi-autobiographical story set during one day in rural 1940s South, and at least half of those things are interesting to me no matter who publishes them.

Sonny, the protagonist, is adorable and believably child-like, which is (I think) a tough combination to pull off in a book. He doesn’t entirely understand what’s going on, because he’s six and not yet wise to the ways of the world and/or romance, but he’s a good narrator nonetheless. He sees everything and has opinions on everything, and he makes even the most boring things (like going to the bathroom before school) seem interesting.

Alright, so partly it’s interesting because it’s set in a time/place when/where people used outhouses, and people were sharecroppers, and everybody went to voodoo practitioners for relationship help, but even without that stuff I think I’d still like it. The writing is great, the details vivid, and it all paints a very clear picture of what life was like for the author and his family back then.

That’s important stuff! History is important; personal history even moreso, and if you can make it important and interesting to other people, even people born decades afterwards, then it’s definitely worth reading and reprinting and giving fancy covers. I’m kinda surprised this isn’t a Newbery book, actually. It’d go perfectly with books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and such.

Read: October 1, 2014

1 thought on “A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines”

  1. Huh. I didn’t know Ernest Gaines had done like teen fiction. I’m only familiar with the books of his that you read if you grow up in Louisiana, which are A Lesson Before Dying (eh) and A Gathering of Old Men, which I swear I am going to finally read this year.

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