A modern-day parable about truth, retribution, and grace that combines gritty inner-city realism with fairy-tale symbolism.
This unusual and ambitious novel from the author of Garden’s Corner (1997) packs multiple stories, dozens of characters, and profound ideas about the meaning of life, the value of faith, and the nature of truth into just 250 pages. The Boy, a 10-year-old who narrates half the chapters, lives a quiet, ordinary life on a nice, safe block in the City (a place that natives of Brooklyn, New York, will recognize). He rides his bike to the pizzeria and playground, goes to school and church, and stays away from a nearby housing project, named Gilead, where his mother doesn’t allow him to go. One day, a new tenant, known simply as the Old Man, comes to stay in the basement apartment that the Boy’s mother, a teacher, rents out. The man was a friend of the Boy’s grandfather and has returned to settle some unfinished business with people who harmed Mama in the past. Meanwhile, one of Mama’s young pupils has vanished after being picked up from school by her stepfather. The stories of the Boy, his mom, and the Old Man intersect in unexpected ways as the narrative moves back and forth in time, place, and point of view—from the rural South to the local church to the backrooms of the City’s illegal enterprises. The novel begins at a leisurely pace and builds through increasingly dramatic scenes to a powerful conclusion. Reed connects his narrative to timeless themes with his artistic choices, such as nesting stories within stories; giving the characters’ simple, descriptive names (the Pastor, the Kid, the Candy Man, the Merchant); and beginning every seventh chapter with a biblical quote. In engaging dialogue, the characters grapple with the impossibility of protecting children, the power of secrets, the value of storytelling, and whether a person can transcend his innate nature.
An artful, thought-provoking, and memorable work of fiction.