Parker has two stories to tell in her first novel. One involves a domestic tragedy, the other a test of wills between white and black communities in a segregated Southern city. Unfortunately, the latter, far more interesting story is crowded out by the former. The time is 1947. Sirus McDougald, 35-year-old son of a poor black tobacco farmer, is now comfortably ensconced in Durham, North Carolina's middle class; a builder, a banker, and leader of its vibrant business community. Sirus has mingled with white people as an equal, since he can pass for white; he is neither intimidated nor impressed by them, and when some white Durham businessmen propose a housing venture, Sirus rejects it, because it smells rotten. On the home front, Sirus' marriage to the anxiety-ridden Aileen, his temperamental opposite, is on the rocks, but he has found solace in his young daughter, Mattie, his pride and joy. When the novel opens Mattie has just died in an accidental fall, plunging both parents into a deep gloom that will not lift until the story's end a year later. The tone of hushed reverence for the dear departed quickly becomes suffocating, and Parker's half- hearted attempts to tie the tragedy to Sirus' business dealings (Was a white man somehow involved? Was it divine punishment for Sirus' overreaching?) don't help. Somewhere between the wake and the funeral and the flashbacks the story dies, and Sirus' eventual recovery (inspired by a vision of Mattie) and further resistance of the white power structure comes too late to revive it. Rich material ruined by cloying treatment.