"THE RICHER, THE POORER: Stories, Sketches and Reminiscences" by Dorothy West
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"THE RICHER, THE POORER: Stories, Sketches and Reminiscences"

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Thirty stories and sketches from one of the Harlem Renaissance's last surviving members: a first-rate collection that spans almost 70 years, and includes a prize-winning story (""The Typewriter"") written when West was 17. Many of the pieces here reflect the author's relatively privileged background as a genteel black Bostonian whose family pioneered the Negro summer community on Martha's Vineyard. West's fiction relies on popular story conventions defined by writers like O. Henry: It builds to a definite point, allows for sharp plot twists, and often ends in dramatic irony. Most of the tales here concern money--hard-earned, easy-come, or out of reach. In ""The Penny,"" a boy who's lost his penny is coerced by a middle-class woman into betraying his parents so he can get another; the superb ""Jack in the Pot"" concerns a woman on relief whose lottery winnings create more problems than they solve; and ""Odyssey of an Egg"" is a hard-boiled tale of a ne'er-do-well, his head full of movie-derived gangster toughness, whose greed gets the better of him. West's best stories are often told from a young girl's point of view: The protagonist of ""The Five-Dollar Bill,"" whose parents live apart, sees childhood as ""full of unrequited love, and suffering, and tears""; ""Funeral"" offers a child's perspective on the apparent greed and guilt manifest at an uncle's funeral; and ""The Happiest Year, The Saddest Year"" concerns a girl's anger at the death of her dark-complexioned cousin. Shades of blackness figure prominently here, and they often have profound social consequences. West's strength is as a moralist and social observer, sensitive to the slippery slope of vice and the indignities of poverty. The nonfiction pieces include lovely portraits of West's entrepreneurial father and her family's heroic women; an astonishing anecdote involving director Sergei Eisenstein; and a classic profile of little-remembered Harlem Renaissance figure Wallace Thurman. A wonderful historical gathering by a writer who's not just part of literary history but still very much alive.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Doubleday