On its surface, I Am Elijah Thrush is the story of Millicent De Frayne and her sensational half-century campaign to win the love of Elijah Thrush. Elijah, after ruining the lives of countless men and women, is finally in love “incorrectly, if not indecently,” with his great-grandson, Bird of Heaven. To support an unusual habit, a young Black man, Albert Peggs, reluctantly agrees to tell their remarkable story. It is in this telling that the ambitions, desires, and true natures of Elijah, Millicent, and Albert come to light. With a delicately controlled balance of whimsy and pathos, James Purdy gives us this comedy of the heroic, the tragic, and the truly bizarre.
Met with critical bewilderment upon its initial publication fifty years ago, this new edition offers a Foreword by Robert J. Corber illuminating Purdy’s “complicated allegory” of objectification, desire, and race in the immediate post–civil rights moment.