A third novel from playwright and storywriter Cooper (The Future Has a Past, 2000, etc.) follows five generations of African-Americans from the Deep South of the Civil War to a Chicago suburb in the 20th century.
You get a feel for the outline of the story here early on, when the narrator tells you that her tale is about the good people who live in a neighborhood called Dream Street in a town called Place. The narrator herself speaks in a tone that falls somewhere between Diogenes and Ecclesiastes, relating the vanities of those who manage to make their way in the world and the travails of those who don’t. Among the latter are some of the descendants of an ex-slave named Eula, who, in the late 19th century, manages to leave the South and make her way north to Oklahoma. Her children work as sharecroppers at first, and their children move farther north with each generation until they reach Illinois. In the lean years of the Depression, Eula’s granddaughter, Eula Too, sets out for Chicago, but she’s raped, beaten, and left for dead along the way. She’s rescued by a high-class bawd named Madame LaFon and given a job and a place to live in Madame’s Chicago brothel. Madame grows to love Eula Too and provides her with a good education. Madame grew up in the woebegone little town of Place, in a dreary little house on Dream Street. Her dying mother lives there still, and Madame looks after her with Eula Too’s help. There are all kinds of people living on Dream Street, including the Chinese immigrant Ha and the Jewish refugee Maureen Iris, both of whom (like Eula Too) had to struggle against great odds to get there.
Stilted prose combines with creaky allegory in a very odd family saga—a mix, perhaps, of Mister Rogers, Roots, and The Good Earth.