Meteor in the Madhouse
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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.
but their sheer power of personality overwhelmed him into surrender before the altar places where he (Leonard) worshiped, with their other fans. The cult of personality fashioned around his heroes shook Leonard up terribly, even as my poet kinsman had done his part to celebrate the lives of these famous or well-known public ﬁgures. Each in his own way—without knowing it—had made Leonard feel his inadequacy so deeply, so sharply, so crudely, that he found an ironic cave-shelter inside these men,
in his mission. Lucasta Jones, in Solitude 63 Chapter I 3 will always remember that day—a heavy rain at the window— November, the month of Lucasta’s birth. Tucson was to marry Lucasta; then the telephone rang. The ﬁrst time I saw Cuz Lucasta come alive in the music’s merriment with madness (where she alone held dominion) was when she danced with Tucson. Wondrous and magical, sweeping and reviving to her, to him, as I recollected it all now from my adult space in time. A slumbering swan now
Polyneices cleaned away the ashes and placed the pipe in an ashtray on the hospital nightstand. As I accompanied Shirley outside—she craved a cigarette—I could not get over my virtual shock and anger with Leonard’s curdling remarks against my freedom of spirit, manifested at such a young age. “Shirley, wasn’t this painful and ugly that Leonard Foster, of all people, who fought so hard in the Movement for our freedom, could talk like that . . . would dare speak of someone being too free?”
of proclaiming she would take these pictures down to the Tribune, if they didn’t run these very clear shots—full indictment of the Red Rooster operation. Shirley, soon after the story ran in the Dispatch under my byline, with that devastating photo spread, the red ﬂag atop the Red Rooster ﬂew no more!” All through my recall of this saga of the Red Rooster rout, Leonard Foster had been applauding and even egging me on. But now as I was ending this segment of the story, the spirit and mind-set of
drink. Soon I had them both cracking up over what had happened to me earlier in the morning, outside my grandparents’ house with Marvella’s confrontation with the police, and my involvement, in which I tried to bring order into the chaotic scene. “So, be sure to look for me on the evening news. I hope I didn’t end up playing the fool.” It also occurred to me, as we parted, why didn’t Withers bring up the subject of the play, since Ma Fay Barker went on and on about my potential as a playwright?