Straight (a story collection, Aquaboogie, 1990) here offers a first novel about a black woman and her two professional football- playing sons—in a debut notable especially for its evocation of place and its sure-handed use of patois. Marietta Cook, in 1959, is growing up in the low country of South Carolina, and Straight precisely textures the southern rural detail, ranging from shrimping and fishing in the swamp with a torn and mended net to gathering hanging moss. When Marietta's mother dies, she leaves Aint Sister (the patois includes syntactical and spelling variations as well as quirky naming—Tiny Momma, Baby Poppa, etc.) and goes to Charleston to look for her uncle. Instead, she finds Sinbad (one of those ``Here and gone people'') and eventually returns home pregnant with twin boys. Marietta works- -doing heavy wash, chopping with her hoe—and pays attention to the young civil rights movement on TV until Aint Sister dies, whereupon she returns to Charleston with her two football geniuses and works as a domestic. She learns about football as well as civil rights, and her boys finally get drafted by the Rams. The scene shifts to a black community in southern California as the boys, Calvin and Nate, try to make the cut. Marietta becomes a veritable earth- mother—while Nate shoots up steroids—and, though she's out of her element in dealing with microwaves, structured playtime, and financial consultants, she not only survives but prospers. By story's end, she'll feel at home, upbeat, and at relative peace with the world. A little contrived or sentimental in patches, but affectionately evoking the rhythms and contours of two particular places. An impressive first—from a writer to watch.
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