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THE MEASURED MAN by Howard Owen

THE MEASURED MAN

By Howard Owen

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-018654-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Southern writer Owen (Fat Lightning, 1994, etc.), an editor at the Richmond Times Dispatch, movingly details the moral education of a 40ish white male as he finally tries to do the right thing in his racially divided hometown. St. Andrews is small and seemingly quiet, which suits Walker Fann just fine. A man of decent instincts if timid disposition, he believes in small-town life, but St. Andrews is no Eden. Once a milltown called Cottondale, the name was changed in 1949 after a notorious riot. As the story opens in the early '90s, the people of St. Andrews are about to vote on whether the old slave market should be turned into a museum. The black leadership believe that the change would revive the downtown area; the whites fear it would only revive the past. Walker has led a privileged life, meanwhile: He's the publisher of the local newspaper and a golfing buddy of the town's movers and shakers. Unlike the rest of his circle, though, he has black friends and has long dreamed of becoming a crusading journalist. But he's also always deferred to his strong- willed father, Big Walker, who now fears that the paper's support of the museum will lead to a loss of advertising. Walker's life is described in part by his dead wife Mattie, who drowned a year before the story begins while the two were vacationing in Italy. Using a ghost as a narrator is a potentially creaky device, but it works here. And when the still-grieving Walker, pursuing the young black boy who stole his favorite baseball mitt, finds himself drawn by his black acquaintances R.J. and Rasheed Aziz into a fight he doesn't want to fight--writing an editorial in favor of the museum- -Mattie is there willing him to do the right thing. Which he eventually does, though not before lives are lost and old friendships tested. A journey of the soul that warms and cheers.