A simplistic though at times touching autobiography refracted through the author's postmodern need to ``come to a broader understanding of how `self' can be described.'' On its face, Walker's chock-full story makes for good copy: born poor in segregated Mississippi; uprooted into northern integration; heavily recruited as a high school athlete; a college All-American; one of the first black NBA celebrities with the Philadelphia 76ers and then the world-champion Chicago Bulls; now a successful TV and film producer. But this life is made less interesting by his own, and Messenger's (Sport and the Spirit of Play in Contemporary American Fiction, not reviewed, etc.), hands. The people in his story are stereotypes: his mother, the patient, long-suffering comforter; his father, the neglectful and abusive rolling stone; the de rigueur whites Walker befriends as a boy despite the forces of a racialized world. Yet through the worn-out elements, some of Walker's revelations ring painfully true—most notably his worries over the state of his soul. Reinscribing an old metaphor of professional sports as professional slavery (from the cotton fields to the playing fields), Walker talks with flashes of insight on the moral erosion that occurs for athletes, who are ``hostages of a system that wants to hear nothing from them except endorsements of products.'' When he writes that the turbulence of the '60s civil rights movement (which he resisted for fear of its professional repercussions) made him ``wonder about the lives I had missed leading, about how I could have been a better man,'' the heartbreak is real. But the central problem with Walker's book is that it suffers from knowing (and saying) too much. With its self-consciously writerly posture showing through, Long Time Coming doesn't really arrive.
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