ALL-BRIGHT COURT by Connie Porter


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 A compelling if uneven first novel covering two decades in the lives of the Taylor family and their neighbors in a black proletarian neighborhood in Buffalo. In a clear, quiet but powerful prose reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the author draws the gaudily painted, rundown bungalows of All-Bright Court and peoples it convincingly. In 1959, Samuel Taylor leaves Tupelo, Mississippi, for the fabled, egalitarian North (although in reality, All-Bright Court is a pen for black workers barred from neighborhoods that white workers move up to). The working conditions in the steel mills and the politics of the union hall are well rendered, but it is in the details of family life that the novel comes alive. Mary Kay Taylor brings with her the small-town habits of caring for one's neighbors, now including an alcoholic's son, always hungry, later killed while looting a grocery store. The story's most moving sections involve the growing tension between the Taylors and their son, who wins a scholarship to boarding school (``His parents could see the learning was changing him, but also the unlearning''). From time to time, the narrative flow is interrupted by the addition of more characters than can hold a reader's interest in a work of this length. And there's a tendency to let historical events--the murders of civil-rights workers; the assassinations of Kennedy and King; the Vietnam War; race riots--dominate. The plot falters as characters react to these events rather than to one another. The narrative is strongest when following the Taylors' attempts to move upward while staying faithful to the fundamental decency of their origins. When it lets characters speak for themselves, in salty, witty dialogue, Porter's debut stands as a solid achievement.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-395-53271-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991