University of Tennessee professor Michael Lofaro claimed the version published in 1957 was not the version intended for print by the author. He discussed his work at a conference that was part of the Knoxville James Agee Celebration (April 2005). Lofaro tracked down the author's original manuscripts and notes and has reconstructed a version he says is more authentic. Lofaro's version of the novel, A Death in the Family: A Restoration of the Author's Text, was published in 2007 as part of a 10-volume set, The Collected Works of James Agee (University of Tennessee Press). Lofaro is also the author of Agee Agonistes: Essays on the Life, Legend, and Works of James Agee (2007).
According to Lofaro, McDowell altered the original text in a number of ways:
- Removed the original opening, a nightmare scene, and instead started the novel with "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," a previously published short work of Agee's that was not intended as part of the novel.
- Altered the order of the book, which was intended to be chronological.
- Some chapters were removed.
- Some chapters were chopped up.
- Some chapters were moved and presented as flashbacks.
- The number of chapters was changed from 44 short chapters to 20.