FIRST FAMILY by Christopher Davis


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The first Negro family to move into a white neighborhood-this is the second novel to make fictional use of this situation. It has none of the concentrated violence of Peaceable Lane- nor the superficially popular salients. Christopher Davis (Lost Summer-Harcourt, Brace) is a more interesting writer than Keith Wheeler-and he has some interesting things to say. But his novel is definitely handicapped by his use of very special disability which both limits and weakens the issue at hand. The McKinleys, an intellectual Negro family, buy an old house in a Philadelphia suburb, ""a swamp of gentle Republicanism and apathetic morality"". McKinley is a Professor; Rachel, his beautiful, younger wife is an aggressive crusader for racial equality; and Scotty, their 12 year old son, is an epileptic with a class-A genius IQ and an insolent superiority cultivated by his sickness and precocity. While the neighborhood in general limits their protest against the McKinleys to a petition- and later to sales signs on their own property, the Charles family go to almost unnatural extremes to prove their liberalism. Rachel and Sally Charles become good friends, and so do Scotty and Kate Charles while Scotty (and Rachel also) forces the relationship to assume a most unchildlike seriousness (this too is hard to accept). Kate tries to disengage herself gently, but it is Scotty's later, terrifying fit (and not the fact that he is a Negro) which brings on her very understandable recoil that leads to unhappiness for all concerned... In the process Davis has made some valuable points: that it is the Negro as much as the white man who cannot forget the color line and touchily sets off situations in a casual co-existence; and that the Negro's racial pride is as much to fault as the white man's prejudice. It would be a more moving book- and a better lesson in tolerance- if Scotty, a really intolerable child, were not the means to an unregretted tragic end. Strong publisher promotion.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1960
ISBN: 0595172091
Publisher: Coward-McCann