To those who think that artists do their best work before age 50, meet Percival Everett (Dr. No; So Much Blue; Percival Everett by Virgil Russell). He has produced some of his greatest fiction since he passed the half-century mark, including James, his hilarious yet angry reimagining of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Everett upends decades of scholarship on Twain's novel by telling the story from Jim's--now James's--perspective. Major characters from the original are here but with diminished emphasis, while minor figures--primarily James's wife, Sadie, and his daughter, Lizzie--take on greater resonance. By James's side again is Huck, going to great lengths to fake his death and avoid his abusive drunk of a father, while James, fleeing from Hannibal, Mo., vows to secure his family's freedom when he overhears plans to sell him to a man in New Orleans.

In making James the narrator, Everett cleverly addresses ruses intended to make white people feel good, such as when Black people speak with correct diction in one another's company but use stereotypically poor syntax--James calls it "correct incorrect grammar"--whenever white people are around. That James occasionally slips up and confuses white people with his proper diction is only one of many brilliant details, as is the introduction of characters such as Daniel Decatur Emmett, who founded the Virginia Minstrels and hires James, "a slave of light-brown complexion," to don blackface and replace their lost tenor. Clever plot developments and a satisfyingly violent conclusion make James yet another late-career triumph from one of America's most original authors. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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