Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Healing was Jones’s first novel in more than two decades. It was also the first novel to be published by the venerable Beacon Press in its 144-year history. For most critics, the book lived up to its prepublication expectations. Reviewers expressed some surprise that the novel was so different from the author’s earlier work but went on to praise it for its innovative use of language, its rich portrayal of character, and its theme of hope.

Unfortunately, just a week after its publication, the book’s content was overshadowed by personal tragedy. The author and her husband, Bob Jones, had been living quietly in Lexington, Kentucky. The ballyhoo surrounding the book caught the attention of local police, who set out to arrest Bob Jones on a prior weapons charge. He barricaded himself and Gayl inside their house. As the police closed in, he cut his own throat with a knife. It was a scene that brought the horrific events of Jones’s earlier novels into real life. Its drama and pathos almost overwhelmed the novel’s impact. Since that time, however, The Healing has taken its place in the canon of contemporary African American literature. It is by no means an easy book to read, but its unique take on human frailties and relationships makes it worth the effort.