What timing for Wade's debut novel: a successful (and Republican) black man—accused of sexual harassment—recovers in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Ultimately, the parallels to Thomas-Hill are few, but Wade's look at how African-Americans fare in corporate America is, if less sensational, just as timely. Bill Covington, Baltimore marketing executive, is haunted by his grandmother's admonition to never act ``niggerish'' and by the knowledge that his success depends on making powerful white men feel comfortable with him. (Paradoxically, while he must distance himself from other blacks, white management expects him to control them.) He keeps silent in the face of racism, sexism, nepotism, and do-nothing jobs for rich men's sons with drug problems. The pressures literally emasculate him, leaving him impotent with beautiful Paula, who plays the new role of black corporate wife to such perfection that she seems trapped, like Covington, in success and artifice. As Covington's psyche unravels, the real crisis comes when black machinists are threatened by mass layoffs and he's forced, at last, to reveal himself. The least successful aspect of the novel is its form—a letter to the homosexual friend Covington cruelly repudiated years earlier: Wade fails to make the past betrayal carry the weight apparently intended, while explanations about black culture are clearly aimed at white readers and not the addressee. Few surprises here, but first-novelist Wade tells necessary truths sometimes eloquently, always clearly.
Read full book review >