STANDING AT THE SCRATCH LINE by Guy Johnson

STANDING AT THE SCRATCH LINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The adventures of an African-American man during the first half of this century provides thrills without much insight, emphasizing fists, gunplay, and the justice of the knife over introspection or the deeper working of memory. Newcomer Johnson's saga (which apparently had seen ""countless script versions"") begins in 1916 in the bayous of Louisiana, as young LeRoi Tremain joins his uncle in an ambush of smugglers. During the fight, a police officer is killed, and a family elder reluctantly sends LeRoi away from the family for his safety and theirs. He joins the army and earns his nickname--""King"" for ""The King of Death""--in France, fighting with the US Army's valiant colored units. After many astonishing feats, racial slanders, and heroic conquests, King returns to New York rich, young, and feared. Though the city is the home of the mob, King, at the height of the Jazz Age in Harlem, manages to eliminate his business competition. In 1920, he moves on to Now Orleans, where he destroys corrupt politicians and errant police officers alike. Then, after rescuing the lovely Serena from her creel father, he marries her and relocates to Bodie Wells, Oklahoma, the ""only colored community around here with electricity."" More corruption, more racism, more Moral Janitorial work to be done. King is portrayed as a violent, magnanimous World Spirit of limitless generosity, righteous justice, rock-solid honor, and ruthless pragmatism--an African-American Chuck Norris. His enemies are weak and venal men, as are most of his women: Serena bears King's children, but does him wrong in the end. Any literary expectations raised by the fact that the author's mother is the poet Maya Angelou will go unsatisfied here. This is like a paginated movie thickened with descriptions to pad out a novel, in this case a spectacle of action-packed bloodshed.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0375756671
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Random