The Chaneysville Incident

The Chaneysville Incident

by David Bradley


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The legends say something happened in Chaneysville. The Chaneysville Incident is the powerful story of one man's obsession with discovering what that something was—a quest that takes the brilliant and bitter young black historian John Washington back through the secrets and buried evil of his heritage. Returning home to care for and then bury his father's closest friend and his own guardian, Old Jack Crawley, he comes upon the scant records of his family's proud and tragic history, which he drives himself to reconstruct and accept. This is the story of John's relationship with his family, the town, and the woman he loves; and also between the past and the present, between oppression and guilt, hate and violence, love and acceptance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060916817
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/23/1990
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 906,792
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 10.18(d)

Read an Excerpt



Sometimes you can hear the wire, hear it reaching out across the miles; Whining with its own weight, crying from the cold, panting at the distance, humming with the phantom sounds of someone else's conversation. You cannot always hear it--only sometimes; when the night is deep and the room is dark and the sound of the phone's ringing has come slicing through uneasy sleep; when you are lying there, shivering, with the cold plastic of the receiver pressed tight against your ear. Then, as the rasping of your breathing fades and the hammering of your heartbeat slows, you can hear the wire: whining, crying, panting, bumming, moaning like a live thing.

"John?" she said. She had said it before, just after she had finished giving me the message, but then I had said nothing, had not even grunted in response, so now her voice had a little bite in it: "John, did you hear me?"

"I heard you," I said. I let it go at that, and lay there, listening to the wire.

"Well," she said finally. She wouldn't say any more than that; I knew that.

"If he's all that sick, he ought to be in the hospital."

"Then you come take him. The man is asking for you, John; are you coming or not?"

I listened to the wire.

"John." A real bite in it this time.

"Tell him I'll be there in the morning," I said.

"You can tell him yourself," she said. "I'm not going over there."

"Who's seen him, then?" I said, but she had already hung up.

But I did not hang up. Not right away. Instead I lay there, shivering, and listened to the wire.

Judith woke while I was makingcoffee. She had slept through the noise I had made showering and shaving and packing-she would sleep through Doomsday unless Gabriel's trumpet were accompanied by the smell of brewing coffee. She came into the kitchen rubbing sleep out of her eyes with both fists. Her robe hung open, exposing a flannel nightgown worn and ragged enough to reveal a flash of breast. She pushed a chair away from the table with a petulant thrust of hip, sat down in it, and dropped her hands, pulling her robe closed with one, reaching for the mug of coffee I had poured for her with the other. She gulped the coffee straight and hot. I sat down across from her, creamed my own coffee, sipped it. I had made it strong, to keep me awake. I hated the taste of it.

"Phone," Judith said. That's how she talks when she is not quite awake: one-word sentences, and God help you if you can't figure out what she means.

"The telephone is popularly believed to have been invented by Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotsman who had emigrated to Canada. Actually there is some doubt about the priority of invention--several people were experimenting with similar devices. Bell first managed to transmit an identifiable sound, the twanging of a clock spring, sometime during 1876, and first transmitted a complete sentence on March 10, 1876. He registered patents in 1876 and 1877."

Judith took another gulp of her coffee and looked at me, squinting slightly.

"The development of the telephone system in both the United States and Great Britain was delayed because of the number of competing companies which set up systems that were both limited and incompatible. This situation was resolved in England by the gradual nationalization of the system, and in America by the licensing of a monopoly, which operates under close government scrutiny. This indicates a difference in patterns of economic thought in the two countries, which still obtains."

She just looked at me.

"The development of the telephone system was greatly speeded by the invention of the electromechanical selector switch, by Almon B. Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker, in 1899."

"John," she said.

"I didn't mean to wake you up."

"If you didn't want to wake me up you would have made instant."

I sighed. "Jack's sick. Should be in the hospital, won't go. Wants me." I realized suddenly I was talking like Judith when she is not quite awake.

"Jack?" she said. "The old man with the stories?"

"The old man with the stories."

"So he's really there."

I looked at her. "Of course he's there. Where did you think he was-in Florida for the winter?"

"I thought he was somebody you made up."

"I don't make things up," I said.

"Relax, John," she said. "It's just that the way you talked about him, he was sort of a legend. I would have thought he was indestructible. Or a lie."

"Yeah," I said, "that's him: an old, indestructible lie. Who won't go to the hospital." I started to take another sip of my coffee, but I remembered the rest room on the bus, and thought better of it.

"John?" she said.


"Do you have to go?"

"He asked for me," I said.

She looked at me steadily and didn't say a word.

"Yes," I said. "I have to go."

I got up then, and went into the living room and opened up the cabinet where we keep the liquor. There wasn't much in there: a bottle of Dry Sack and a bottle of brandy that Judith insisted we keep for company even though Judith didn't drink and we never entertained. Once there would have been a solid supply of bourbon, 101 proof Wild Turkey, but the stockpile was down to a single bottle that had been there so long it was dusty. I took the bottle out and wiped the dust away.

I heard her moving, leaving the kitchen and coming up behind me. She didn't say anything.

I reached into the back of the cabinet and felt around until I found the flask, a lovely thing of antique pewter, a gift to me from myself.

Table of Contents


197903032330 (Saturday),
197903040700 (Sunday),
197903042100 (Sunday),
197903051900 (Monday),
197903062300 (Tuesday),
197903071030 (Wednesday),
197903110600 (Sunday),
197903120400 (Monday),
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About the Author,

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Chaneysville Incident 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite the long historian style descriptions this book was truly amazing. I was both delighted and disturbed at the end. I spent nights wide awake thinking of the lives of slaves and the horrors they encountered.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I learned a lot from this book and took all the information in eagerly, as it both furthered the plot and developed the characters. The book also resonants with the complexity of race relations in the US, both past and present.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was torturous in its prose, lack of continuity, and repetitive glorifying of brutality while hyperbolizing the mundane. A WASTE of my money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Highly recommended if you find historical novels interesting. Good explanations of the history behind the slave trade.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a coming of age, searching for self book that has racial overtones, the underground railroad, a splash of romance and deep introspection of an interracial relationship. i wanted a happy ever after and wasn't granted one. read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
piece of writing. The first couple of lengthy descriptive passages almost caused me miss out on a very compelling and extremely interesting book. A young historian is provided just enough curiousity and intellectual challenge to discover not only his roots but his personal value and place in our ever changing society. J M Lydon
creativreaders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thank god I was required to read this amazing book for a class one year; yet few others appear to have made a similar discovery. Amazingly threaded narratives and plot, rich with historical detail, reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. more on the author- which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1982. His story, inspired in part by the real-life discovery of the graves of a group of runaway slaves on a farm near Chaneysville in Bedford County, PA, where Bradley was born, also received an Academy Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. I suppose I should read South Street, wish he would write more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Be ready to hunker down because this one will take over your life! 414 Pages of information and story. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of what we read about slavery in the United States and most of how it is portrayed on television or in film focuses on the physical horrors This novel helped me have a much greater appreciation of the psychological impact on human beings treated as property For this insight alone, this novel is well worth your time, and the effort it takes to get through a few tedious monologues
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, goes back into the past to make connections to why, what, when, how.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The long descriptive passages were awful. I normally like a historical novel but this was a real struggle to finish. Very difficult to follow and frankly, John just seemed like a big jerk.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't waste your time. It's 400 pages of boredom. 200 pages would have been sufficient for this hyped journey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The sample was so boring, I did not buy the book.