THE BURNING by Frank Norwood


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 Shadows dance, flames fan wide, and sirens wail in LA's inner city when heavy-handed police action sparks a riot and a night of mayhem ensues--in this multifaceted and earnest, if uneven, debut from social-worker Norwood. The ensemble covers all the bases of the polyglot melting pot that is the City of Angels: black, white, Asian; racist, Baptist, anarchist; innocence, experience, the will to die, and the rage to live. LAPD rookie Larry is in pain and hiding after his mean- spirited partner causes an old black man's death and is stomped into mush by a mob. Disappointed that the initial rampage has quieted, J.D., a smart junkie with too many memories of death from fighting in Vietnam, decides to make the night his last and the 'hood his pyre--first, by torching a gas station. As the riot freshens anew, it also catches Ben--already down on his luck after having lost wife, job, and now his ten-year-old, a mentally challenged boy who vanished into the streets at the first news of the unrest. As Ben is pulled from his car and severely beaten while searching for his son, Arletha Mae, 15 and six months a mother, is caught while out getting groceries--and chance brings her and her infant to Larry's hiding place, where her sense of Christian charity prompts her to keep the cop company. Each story unfolds by intertwining with the others; each character finds a revelation in the fires of the LA night, and eventually all ends well--for everyone except Arletha, who pays the ultimate price for fraternizing with the enemy. The city burns only fitfully here, its paroxysms muted by plotlines of greatly varying intensity. Occasionally, though, the figures are raspy and restless enough for a reader to wish they'd been allowed to roam in a less gimmicky context. (First printing of 25,000; Literary Guild alternate)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-31380-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dial
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995