The prominent cultural historian, best known for his books on black Americans and religion, here tries his hand at fiction...



The prominent cultural historian, best known for his books on black Americans and religion, here tries his hand at fiction to bring to life an imaginary town, ""somewhere down south,"" that, despite his assertions to the contrary, exemplifies the ""human comedy"" of race relations in pre-WW II, post-Depression America. Place, more than any one personality or point of view, holds together this deliberately episodic narrative, full of moral tales and O. Henry-like surprises. At their center is Clayton City, ""a metropolis not burdened with a history of great significance,"" and The Avenue, ""the umbilical of the West Side,"" the part of town for the colored folk, whose only places to congregate are Burning Bush Baptist, presided over by Rev. Rusoe, and The Blue Flame, a tiny restaurant run by Guts Gallimore, himself waiting for the calling to preach at Burning Bush. Across the way, Dr. Walter Pinkney Tait, a bitter, DuBoisian observer of street life, studies the local boys to learn ""a lot about the meaning of being black and the torture of no way out."" First appalled by the ""depravity"" of their ""nasty talk,"" he later perceives ""the logic of the whole streetlight ritual""--""a black rite of passage"" revealed in colorful banter. His lonely reveries set into motion the numerous stories that make up this short history of a small place: there's the time Coley the black bootlegger sets up the murder of Roosevelt Jones, the free-loading brother of his sweetheart, only to have his plan work too well; there's the time Zebbie Boy Gilligan brings home a ""Jewess"" as a fiancee, much to the horror of his father, the cracker-born arriviste, Zebbie Dee Gilligan. We learn the sad case of Vernon Banks, a hard-working and honest young black man driven to violence by drunken peckerwoods intent on forcing him to fornicate with his beloved cow. A lighter note is set by the Joel Chandler Harris-like tale of ""Big Walking Man,"" an incredible athlete and country boy who treks nine miles in his finest clothes to see his ""Lil' Un,"" who turns out to be a rabbit hound. Lincoln brings us full circle with the final section, a dark and tragic story of incest, adultery, murder, and revenge, pitting Dr. Tait against the white chief of police. Delightfully old-fashioned storytelling, with plain and simple liberal sentiments--a tonic for these complex times.

Pub Date: March 10, 1988

ISBN: 0822317451

Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1988