Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Richard Wright’s Unfinished Novel
A Father’s Law, by Richard Wright
In honor of the year-long centennial celebration of Richard Wright’s birthday in 1908, Harper Collins has just released his previously unpublished final work A Father’s Law. The draft of this manuscript was discovered by his daughter Julia when collecting his personal effects at the time of his death in 1960.
A Father’s Law is a radical departure for Wright. It is a who-dunnit, with CSI overtones. Surprisingly, Wright shows a knack for writing psyschological studies of human behavior. Written in the six weeks before his death, the writing is not as tight and precise as his previously published novels.
Wright set his story in the suburbs of Chicago with the promotion of black police officer Ruddy Turner to Chief of Police of the affluent suburb of Brentwood Park. Turner is an upright defender of the law, a Republican and a Catholic, a different sort of black man than Wright’s usual characters. He is married with a son Tommy, with whom he has a strained relationship.
A series of murders in Brentwood Park and the psychological tension between Ruddy and Tommy make for interesting insights into the lives of middle class parents who give their children material comforts, but fail to make human connections.
Ruddy feels inadequate when his son, who is studying sociology, offers scientific techniques in crime-solving. He begins to wonder if his own son is a criminal genius and has committed the murders in Brentwood Park. Wright thoroughly explores the divide between working-class parents and their more educated children. Ruddy has “made it,” but the rewards are fragile and vulnerable. He has to juggle his blackness with just-the-right amount of humility and adherence to the white norms that surround him.
This is by no means a psychological thriller and it reflects the absence of Wright’s final attention. It is however a celebration of a great American writer whose contribution to the literary canon is priceless and eduring.