An immersive, wide-ranging novel of impressive depth and candor.

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Journey to Colonus

Debrot’s debut novel considers the achievement and futility of the activist left.

In 1969, historically black Baxter University in sleepy Colonus, North Carolina, is home to a nascent political organization called the Alliance, dedicated to uniting the disparate regional factions of the fractured civil rights movements. The first step is to recruit potential leaders to Baxter’s faculty. One is Vincent Brown, an ambitious black activist from Brooklyn, impressive but proud, distracted, and unafraid of confrontation. Another is Jim Allen, a young, white great-books scholar from the Bronx whose involvement in the movement started completely by accident. The two men hold differing beliefs concerning education, method, and ideology (with a few personal grievances thrown in for good measure). They share an unlikely role model in the form of Thomas Doswell, an old black professor and agitator who teaches the great books at Baxter. Doswell’s personal history with the left, from the labor movement in New Jersey to Communist Moscow to Germany during the rise of Nazism, provides a complex guide to how a man might try to be a positive force for change and whether such change is even possible. Debrot writes in mannered prose that harkens back to the period of Doswell’s youth: plodding, deliberative, highly analytical. That said, the slow narrative style grows on the reader, like the idiosyncrasies of a lecturer; after all, campus novels are about ideas and academics more than action and intrigue (though some intrigue does pop up before too long). The book has an original shape: 50 or 100 or 150 pages in, the reader has no real idea where it’s going, though Debrot inspires enough confidence that the leisurely journey is a welcome one. Doswell’s unlikely back story makes up the true heart of the book, breathing life into some forgotten corners of American history and reminding readers of the human lives among marchers of every political movement. Debrot hasn’t just written an engaging campus novel; he plots the limitations of progressive activism in the 20th century.

An immersive, wide-ranging novel of impressive depth and candor.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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