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The Chaneysville Incident

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,023 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award

"The Chaneysville Incident rivals Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon as the best novel about the black experience in America since Ellison's Invisible Man." —  Christian Science Monitor

The legends say something happened in Chaneysville. The Chaneysville Incident is the powerful story of one man's obsession with discovering what that somethin
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 23rd 1990 by Harper Perennial (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  1,023 ratings  ·  119 reviews

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Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I am totally perplexed by the rave reviews of this novel. This is one of those books where I wish I was better able to stop reading something that I didn't much like and just move on. But I soldiered through all 450 pages, pretty much desperate for the end the whole time.

I'm not sure what bothered me the most about The Chaneysville Incident, and how much what bothered me was related to the fact that I do for a living what the protagonist does (historian). Clearly that is part of it, because Bra
Tamora Pierce
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
John Washington, African-American scholar and son of a Baptist minister, comes home to his small, southern Pennsylvania town--Chaneysville--to bury his father and say goodbye to the old man who taught him about the hills and history of the area, the man he felt more sympathy with and for than his upright, moralistic father. His academic career is stalled at this time, but he feels it get a boost when he recalls his friend's tales about a group of runaway slave who reached the town, only to be bu ...more
Christian Schwoerke
I found the novel at turns exhilarating, engrossing, maddening, confusing, promising, and ultimately unfulfilled… Which is not to say it was not worth the reading, nor that it was a poor book—only that expectations I brought with me and that I perceived Bradley’s narrative had fostered did not finally pan out as I had hoped.

What Bradley successfully brings off are his characterizations of Blacks Moses Washington and his grandfather C.K. (Brobdinag) Washington, each with at least one if not both
Kurt Keefner
Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The story is a mystery within a mystery. Present-day black historian John Washington is trying to figure out what happened to his father, who died of a gunshot wound near a farm. His father, Moses, in turn had been trying to figure out something about his own grandfather, C.K., a black man who had freed himself from slavery but who disappeared before the Civil War. John will not exorcize his own demons until he solves this double-riddle.

There are deep and resonating themes in this story. There i
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is hands down one of my favorite novels, ever. While it's true that I am a bit of a modern American racial history geek, I appreciated it not simply for Bradley's impressive accomplishment in creating such a detailed and moving work of historical fiction. I read this book about a year ago, and what has stayed with me the most is how incredibly evocative Bradley's descriptions of winter are. Not since Ethan Frome (which I admit is totally depressing) have I read something which so perfectly ...more
Eles Jackson
This book was very frustrating for me. I was very interested in the "story" but very and completely bored and annoyed by the extremely long tangents of history the author took you on. The reason they were so annoying is because, in my opinion, they had NOTHING to do with the plot! The author would randomly choose a time to explain the history of the city or the history of paper or some such thing. A little background of information is sometimes a good idea, but in this book, there would be page ...more
Marian Otis
Drags on and on and ....

The professor (author) forgot to leave the lecture hall before he started to write this book. Many digressions to unimportant or completely irrelevant bits of history. As a child the main characters is certainly believable and sympathetic, but he loses on both fronts as an adult who hates much deeply & without reason, is still waiting for emancipation from whitey, and uses alcohol (from, or instead of, breakfast, til he goes to bed and all points in between) as a catalyst
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was a spectacular novel that perpetually engages the reader into a journey of a historian who investigates the death of his father and discovers the cause of death of his past ancestors. This is a magnificent novel for those who enjoy a well written novel that includes a rich array of history, particularly during the age of slavery and the Underground Railroad. David Bradley is a talented writer who presents a novel full of love, hate, mystery, and discovery.
May 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
A unique book that appears to follow a different sort of history of race in Pennsylvania. While the writing style is difficult to follow at times, the overall story provides a dark yet fascinating mystery that will entice most readers.
Feb 26, 2010 marked it as to-read
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Forgotten Histories
Feb 21 2010, 4:30 PM ET

I started off the week talking about allegory and Ralph Ellison, so it's only right that I spend a little time talking about a work that got pegged as a successor to Invisible Man. Written by David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident hit bookshelves in 1981. At least one review compared it favorably to Ellison's signature work and the two of them share a feverish quality that comes from wrestling with the long-term historical effects of r
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books that I have ever read. The reason I say this is that it stayed with me for months after I read it. It's a truly haunting book. The story is based on a little known event that actually happened and the author is also a historian in real life--just like the protagonist in the story.

There are two mysteries in the book.

The first concerns the past. The graves of thirteen escaped slaves were found in a small town in rural Pennsylvania (on the border--near the Undergroun
Lynn Pribus
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary book. I found it listed in 1000 BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE. Written in the 1980s by a Black PhD historian who was then teaching in some university (Delaware?) -- he taught at many -- about an incident near his hometown in southwestern Pennsylvania.

It's a densely written novel -- some pages have no indentation at all with lengthy soliloquies -- but much in a storyteller guise. Very pertinent in these days when BLM no longer means Bureau of Land Management (to this long-time dwe
A slowly and carefully revealed family history, pursued by the bitter and sharp protagonist, historian John Washington. David Bradley does an excellent job of uncovering the family's tragic ancestry by small degrees and measured revelations. Washington himself is difficult to like: he is cruel to everyone (including his mother and girlfriend), he admits to having raped a woman merely because she was white, he is not generous or kind or thoughtful. But after learning his story, Bradley permits yo ...more
Harriett Milnes
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star-books
Published in 1981, The Chaneysville Incident is a very well-done novel. Bradley tells the tale of a professor in Philadelphia, who is summoned back to Chaneysville because his father's friend is dying. This friend, and his father, lived in cabins and survived on meat they had hunted. They knew about storms and snow and how to get by and survive in the woods. The professor starts to look into his father's and his grandfather's death and into his own feelings about race. Very compelling. It won th ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read, although in a few places I became confused as to who was speaking or the subject. But I could not put the book down. It's been a long time since I've been unable to put the light out and the book down. Love it! This story is mysterious, suspenseful, and so touching. Definitely worth reading. ...more
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Good Read

White & African American...history and feelings...incidents and reactions...history...and hopefully for the reader, increased understanding.
Walking in another's essential to understanding, acceptance and moving forward.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this novel multiple times since it was first published; each time I get something more from it. Wonderful writing, a fantastic story. Really a great American novel.
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A great book. It should be included on every Survey of American Lit syllabi.
Anthony Wagner
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A book as pertinent today as it was in 1981, 1881, and 1781. Bradley's narrative is a brilliant snapshot of the Black experience in the boondocks of Pennsylvania. His haunting multigenerational story is entangled with the United States' complex and ongoing history of racism and inequality - issues that rear their heads even (or especially!) in a sleepy little county just north of the Mason Dixon Line. Characters hunt for truth, power, and forgiveness in this epic, undersold novel. It's a true ma ...more
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Hey, I would've loved it if this book sucked.

One cannot help seeing its author in its protagonist, unforgiving, yet utterly cracked and flawed to the point where one wonders why anyone would spend time and/or affection on such an unrepentant misanthrope.

One really cool thing about reading this after taking a course with Mr. Bradley: His magnum opus is modeled after Melville's Moby Dick , so you see in these pages what he means when he says "Moby Dick is a master text." Like the bible, or the di
Oct 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is about a lot of different things. Slaving , white people, and the struggle of a black man from a small town.
It tells of John, Johns father and grandfather . And an old man that helped John in many ways.
You feel sorry for the white woman who loves John because he won't let her enter his world or his past world. Why he won't let her is never really stated, but there is a lot in the book that isn't stated and the reader must take the clues and find his answer.
To me the book was hard t
Josh Wagner
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As someone who grew up in "the county," went to school in "the town," and travels through Chaneysville to visit grandma—this book was gripping. The Chaneysville Incident is well researched and compelling. It should be mandatory reading in high schools around the country, especially in south-central Pennsylvania. ...more
Les Robinson
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: serious-shelf
This book has it all, great characters, good structure, depth and texture, and a Klan lynching foiled. Won the Pen/Faulkner, too.
Aug 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is mostly comprised of the main characters telling each other rather lengthy stories about the past. The composition of these stories is quite interesting and can make you feel like you're sitting there next to them listening along with the other main characters. All of this comes together to try to understand and solve a mystery of a sort, and I always like a good mystery. The problem is, it takes over half of the book to finally get to the point of the main character knowing there is ...more
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating novel to read. Apart from the perennial topicality of its subject, American slavery, especially significant in 2020 America -- this novel raises interesting questions on the relationship among history, biography, myth, and fiction. Choosing an historian as narrator, Bradley fuses these various generic qualities into one unified work of art, which deserves far more space than a Goodreads post allows. This is a novel I'd recommend at any time, but in today's climate it has an ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction is greatly underrated, I think, in terms of its importance in teaching us about the past. A story that weaves fictional characters and actions thru a fabric of historic facts and events can often give the reader a truer feel for the social and political climate of a bygone era.
I found The Chaneysville Incident to be a masterpiece of historical fiction. I came away from this read a richer and more learned person.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There's a lot to unpack with this novel, and many more intelligent and knowledgeable than I are contributing to conversation, so what I'll say is this: there's "obvious" misogyny in the beginnings/middle of this novel that, as a queer woman reader, is difficult to approach at first. However, getting beyond these moments is important, because I think overall this novel is working through masculinity in really profound ways. ...more
Deborah Bluminberg
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it
John, a historian, is summoned back to his hometown as a long time friend and mentor is dying. John takes this opportunity to revisit the issues and problems of his family, the town and the past. There are long, detailed descriptions of the history of slavery and and personal stories of the people involved. Many of those sections are long and detailed and while they are interesting, they bog the story down.
Peggy Malaspina
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in past 20 years. Readers that either fail to see the point of the long historical discussions or just got bogged down with them are missing the point: they are esential to understanding the whole story that the narrator is telling and they are essential to understanding HIM. For lovers of well-written prose, they are also a gift. Cant believe it took me this long to find this book. ...more
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was a rewarding and unusual read. The narrative is very leisurely and meanders over various topics including the racial history of a small town in Pennsylvania. The author is a wonderful storyteller and I trusted his instincts to bring this novel to a satisfying conclusion. There is a great deal of black/ American history in this book and a number of enjoyable characters.
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American author (b. 1950) and professor of creative writing who wrote South Street (1975) and The Chaneysville Incident (1981)

Full name is David H. Bradley, Jr.

Do not confuse with the other authors of the same name.

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