James by Percival Everett

“I will be outraged as a matter of course. But my interest is in how these marks that I am scratching on this page can mean anything at all. If they can have meaning, then life can have meaning, then I can have meaning.”

Many of you may be familiar with the name Percival Everett, a literary virtuoso known for his diverse and daring storytelling. From farcical Westerns to philosophical tracts narrated by four-year-olds, Everett has carved a niche for himself in the literary world with his boundless creativity and incisive wit.

Among his impressive collection of works, Everett has gifted readers with a multitude of treasures, including a children’s story spoofing counting books, retellings of Greek myths, and the savage satire of the publishing industry found in Erasure, which inspired Emmy-winning writer Cord Jefferson‘s acclaimed feature film American Fiction.

Now, Everett presents his latest masterpiece: James, a riveting and long-overdue retelling of a beloved, albeit controversial classic.

Released in March 2024, James breathes new life into Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by flipping the narrative on its head.

In this inversion, we see the story unfold through the eyes of the enslaved Jim, now known as James.

Everett skillfully reimagines familiar elements from Twain’s tale, infusing them with a fresh perspective highlighting James’s agency, intelligence, and compassion.

The initial part of James stays true to the structure of the classic, but with a significant addition of emotional depth and perspective. Even in the most intense moments, Everett refrains from embellishments, bringing a layer of maturity and a suitably somber tone to his retelling that was notably absent in Twain’s original.

As the narrative progresses, James detours from its source material and assumes ownership of James’s narrative, presenting our protagonist as a brave, wise, perceptive, self-taught individual with an overwhelming sense of compassion for his fellow humans. Everett doesn’t try to paint James’s journey as an easy one, instead introducing musings on slavery, racism, religion, and the human condition through imagined conversations between James and the characters whose work he has been secretly reading. 

What truly sets James apart are the heartfelt conversations between characters, particularly the unexpected revelations that reshape our understanding of Twain’s iconic figures.

Through these exchanges, Everett invites readers to reconsider the legacy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the true depth of its characters.

In James, Percival Everett once again proves himself a master storyteller, pushing the boundaries of literature and challenging readers to see the world through new eyes. This compelling retelling is a testament to Everett’s unparalleled talent and a must-read for anyone who appreciates the power of narrative innovation.

Immersive and brilliantly crafted, James invites us into the previously un-depicted rich interior life of a character from our childhoods.

The novel is fast-paced and unputdownable, the perfect book for a long weekend or lazy day at home. Don’t worry too much about it if you haven’t read Mark Twain’s classic or think you won’t remember the details. James easily stands on its own. If you’re interested in a comparison, I highly recommend you keep an eye on the YouTube channel JesseOnYoutube. They will be posting a video documenting their reread of Mark Twain’s classic followed by their initial read of James by Percival Everett. I’ll be sure to notify you and link the video on my Instagram (@coopsbooktails) when it drops. 

Order James by Percival Everett from Bookshop Benicia today, or check the local library for a copy (physical or audio). 

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Dirty Shirley

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Vodka or Gin (Ritual Garden 108 for Spirit Free)
  • 1 oz unsweetened tart cherry juice or pomegranate juice
  • 1 oz grenadine
  • 1 oz lime juice or lemon juice
  • 4 oz lemon lime soda or ginger ale 
  • Maraschino cherries and lime wedges or orange slices for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Fill a glass with ice and pour the vodka/gin over the ice.
  2. Pour in the cherry/pomegranate juice, grenadine and lime/lemon juice.
  3. Top with lemon lime soda/ginger ale and stir.
  4. Garnish and enjoy!