An exploration of homelessness by the author of Perfect Peace (2010) and The Sacred Place (2007).
Black has said that he wants to “write literature which celebrates the African American presence in America and teaches the world how to be more human.” That this is a laudable goal is obvious to anyone who understands the chronic underrepresentation of minority voices in American letters. And it’s hard to fault someone whose aim as a novelist is to foster empathy. But a worthy objective doesn’t necessarily make for compelling fiction, and this novel is entirely overwhelmed by Black’s mission. Protagonist Lazarus Love III leaves a comfortable life—as well as a wife and two children—to pursue a more authentic existence as a man unencumbered by material desires. He creates a new family with people whose homelessness is involuntary, individuals with sad and difficult histories who are drawn to Lazarus’ charisma and pride. And then a woman they call The Comforter joins their fragile community, speaking of trials to come. Her words prove true when Lazarus is accused of murder. Each member of his tribe works to prove him innocent even though it means revisiting pasts they had hoped to leave behind. In terms of style, Black has created here a kind of fleshed-out symbolic mode, a mixture of realism and allegory that succeeds as neither. Characterization is both flat and overly detailed—lots of exposition but no real depth. Lazarus’ story features a confusing timeline and conflicting descriptions of how he ended up on the street, which makes it difficult to understand him. And a plot built entirely of coincidences might work for a fable or a fairy tale, but it strains credulity here. None of this means, however, that there is no audience for this novel. Readers who look for uplift and inspiration in their fiction will find both here.
Good intentions, but that’s about it.