A previously unseen short story by Catch-22 writer Joseph Heller about the stabbing of a white man and a southern community’s racist desire for revenge is to be published by US magazine the Strand this week.
“Almost Like Christmas” is a bleak short story concerning a fight – with “the primordial brutality of an alley fracas” – which leaves a white man in a coma and a young black man, Jess Calgary, as the prime suspect. A teacher called Carter must persuade Calgary to come in for questioning.
“There’s going to be trouble, Mr. Carter. It’s like a holiday, a real holiday, and they’re going to have it, no matter who pays for it. It’s almost like Christmas the way everybody’s walking around in a fever of excitement. Don’t let their anger fool you. It’s a chance to feel important, and they’re going to use it.”
“Why, Freddie? Why?”
“That’s hard to say, Mr. Carter. Maybe they just want to be respectable. Everybody wants to be respectable, and joining a mob is the easiest way.”
Andrew Gulli, managing editor of the Strand, who has previously unearthed little-known works by authors such as Mark Twain, Graham Greene, Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse, said: “Heller was to a large extent a guy who saw through hypocrisy, greed, and the backward nature of a mob better than most writers – so it’s no wonder that he turned his pen to a racist mob in a small southern town.”