The diverse residents of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood find themselves at a polarizing crossroads when a white driver collides with a young black bicyclist.
The intersection in the title of Windhauser’s (Regret, 2007) novel is not only the location of the accident that sets the action of the plot in motion. It also accurately describes Graduate Hospital, the Philadelphia neighborhood in which each character lives (or flees). Once home to working-class black families, the area now increasingly attracts whites looking to buy cheap and raise values as they make improvements. The white and black residents intersect in Graduate Hospital, but the junction is often not an easy one. When Michael, a gay white professional, becomes involved in an accident with Geoffrey, a black community activist who has returned to the neighborhood his mother worked hard to leave behind, a powder keg of resentment threatens to explode. Immediately after the crash, a black woman named Rose muses: “Something wicked was brewing. Her neighborhood needed her—whatever that might mean—and not just that white driver, whose name she didn’t even know yet.” Shaken, Michael considers leaving the area (“In the past few days, how many times had he felt like bolting?”). The tale explores the intricate issues of race and class that arise as poor people of color find themselves increasingly marginalized by “urban renewal.” Told from a variety of points of view, the narrative builds suspense and delves into complex emotions of loss, grief, anger, and the desire for connection. In places, the author describes racism with subtle precision, as when Geoffrey’s mother, selling the run-down Graduate Hospital home she grew up in, describes the attitude of a white realtor: “He watched where he stepped too much.” But some of the attitudes of the black characters do not ring true. At a meeting about the accident, a black man’s anger is described by a black woman as “infantile,” emerging from a “restricted world view,” with little attention given to the very real racist abuses that may fuel such hostility. Despite this failing, the novel remains engaging and thought-provoking, and the reader grows to genuinely care about the actors in the drama at the intersection.
A sensitive, if sometimes-uneven, portrayal of the complexities and contradictions of race, class, and sexual orientation in a changing urban landscape.