THE PREMIER by Earl Conrad


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A good book but middling novel, The Premier poasts grand rhetoric but only one valuable character. And yet, in a weird way, if this book ever catches on, it could change history. The story begins in Harlem in 1940 and ends near there in 1970. It is a quesi-Negro novel (with a white narrator) and tells a straightforward tale with no trappings of fantasy, despite the time span. Elmo Baines, a Negro Ph.D., is reduced to menial jobs because he is too well educated for anything betting (!) though he's had better ones. Out of racial indignity, he dreams up a plan for a Central U.S. Negro empire--and he is not a Black Muslim. To finance it, he spends decades inventing a negro hair-straightener, Wondercream, which he will not market until it is perfect. While he boils and bubbles his formulae for hair-straightener, he pens his plans for the empire (to be set up in the Dust Bowl--a new Canaan). The good Elmo hardly gets out of Harlem with his scheme. In fact, it fizzles out when The First Lady spends an hour with him in Washington discussing her coiffure--a piece of dizzying irony at book's end. Elmo goes back to Harlem, harangues futilely, dies of heart failure after being imprisoned. Elmo is one whacking grand character, despite all the discourse author Conrad piles on him. As a novel, the book would be more brilliant if it stuck simply to Elmo, his life and environs.

Pub Date: July 26th, 1963
Publisher: Doubleday