A Book Published in Three Versions
Percival Everett, the author of more than thirty novels and collections of stories and poetry, has cultivated a reputation for defying literary genre with titles such as I Am Not Sidney Poitier, narrated by a man named Not Sidney Poitier and A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid.
His 2020 book, Telephone: A Novel, is no exception. “There are three different versions of this novel, they’re all published identically, and you can’t know which one you’re getting,” Everett said during an interview. With an apologetic chuckle, he added: “It’s going to piss a lot of people off, I’m afraid.”*
One way to distinguish among the three versions is a slight difference in the cover art—note the orientation of the compass needle in the upper right corner. These clues on the cover, along with other differences found in the colophons and dedications, are subtle. The texts, however, are quite different. The storyline diverges at two fulcrum points, there are altered and extended scenes, and each version has a distinct ending.
All of this was originally intended to be kept a secret before the pandemic hit the United States. “But with the strangeness of the Covid-19 isolation, it was a decision in the [publishing] house to do the reveal earlier than later. The title” — a reference to the children’s game where relayed messages become hopelessly distorted — “can’t make sense until you understand what has happened.”*
This complicated three-in-one publication has added another twist to the ongoing cultural impact of the pandemic as well as to this author’s rule-breaking literary output.
* James Yeh, "Percival Everett Has a Book or Three Coming Out," New York Times, May 3, 2020.
Kent State University
Special Collections and Archives
|LC Classification Number||
PS3555.V34 T453 2020
PS3555.V34 T454 2020
PS3555.V34 T455 2020
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Curated by Kathleen Siebert Medicus with guest contributors