If you were told a book of 600 plus pages that jumps from fact to fiction to dream sequences and back again is all about a well-documented historical figure, you would be forgiven for being just a little bit skeptical about said book’s readability. Stephen O’Connor was not only aware of the possible pitfalls in writing a book within those extreme and complicated parameters, he explains his possible trepidations at the end of his book, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings. This is O’Connor’s debut novel and it is remarkable. It is like no other, in that the author uses fact and fiction to explain the story of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. But, he bases his fictionalized account of the taboo relationship on his careful study of the facts. “It was a common opinion that Hemings was subjected to the ordeal of ongoing rape.” Says Stephen O’Connor, “Then I read of the personal items Sally took with her after Jefferson died and I had no choice but to rethink what their relationship was really about.” The scenes of intimacy between Jefferson and Hemings are exquisitely painted without stooping to the obligatory semi-erotica mode that fogs most fiction. “The sex scenes are beautifully described,” Says Norman B, “For me, O’Connor, captures the essence of James Baldwin’s deft hand in Giovanni’s Room.”
Stephen O’Connor will join us for the next edition of Life Elsewhere, we urge you not to miss Norman B’s conversation with the engaging author. You’ll hear a different and remarkable take on what O’Connor suggests is an often misinterpreted story. The author admits to using his imagination to conjure up scenes, but he also provokes the reader to consider how and why we dream. The title alone is a clue to the complexity of his tale. The lack of punctuation deliberately asks the reader to interpret, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings.