An urbane black scholar feels the pull of his country home, in this debut novel.
Tommy Lee (T.L.) Tyson grew up in Swamp Creek, Ark., a small country town where black people scrape together a living from the fields, gather at the Meeting Tree and worship in a small cottage church on Sundays. As a brainy, ambitious kid, T.L. chafed against what seemed to him like Swamp Creek’s backward ways and rebelled against his father’s heavy-handed, “spare the rod and spoil the child” parenting. At 17, he left town for college, then went on to complete a doctorate in African-American studies. Yet after ten years away, T.L. hears the persistent siren call of his hometown and decides to return, not knowing exactly what he needs to figure out. When he arrives during a hot, sticky Arkansas summer, familiar faces and sights reconnect him to long-buried inner dilemmas about his place in the world and in his family. Meanwhile, T.L finds a new and troubling mystery. His beloved sister has died during his absence, and no one will tell him the cause of her death. Over the course of a week, T.L. tries to make sense of the tragedy, of his childhood and of his family’s folk culture. The narrative has a nice rhythm and warmth as old wrongs are righted, strange secrets are unburied and T.L. discovers long-hidden secrets about his identity. He begins to make peace with his roots, but will he stay, or will he leave home again? Some premises don’t quite get off the ground here, but the story nevertheless gains a nice lift around the middle, and soars home to a dramatic conclusion.
Heartwarming, if not always believable.