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CRABCAKES by James Alan McPherson


by James Alan McPherson

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-83465-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prizewinning short-story collection Elbow Room (1977), writes here with an astonishing range of language and emotion. Having previously addressed the black experience in America on many levels, he now tells a profoundly personal tale of displacement and discovery that is poetic and universal. The life described in this volume comes into focus in a moment of retrospection, in a bitter season of doubt. ``Life itself'' had become his enemy, he writes: ``I sought to control its every effort at intrusion into my personal space''--space that was almost entirely confined to his bed, ``in which I perfected my escape from life into an art.'' Remembering the seasons of pain and repair in a lifetime of missed opportunities, he returns repeatedly in this account to Channie Washington, his longtime tenant, a nurturing, self-reliant, and deeply religious woman who represented sanctuary--``the place where you pause to get your bearings for the road.'' For McPherson, the present beckons to memory slowly, seductively, revelation then coming into Proustian clarity with a crabcake or the sensual gait of a brown-eyed woman descending a stair. The fish market of a Baltimore neighborhood where he first savored crabcakes, the fields of Iowa, where he now teaches, and the streets of Japanese cities, where he sojourned awhile, all gather into a personal monologue that invites us to understand the crossroads he has reached. Ultimately, McPherson finds renewal in simple sentiments. Late in a long conversation-letter to a Japanese friend that runs through the second part of the book, he reminds us that ``if nothing in the future of the present seems permanent . . . one can always focus on . . . the future enjoyment of a Maryland crabcake. Such exercises of the imagination keep hope alive.'' Although its ever-shifting form is sometimes unsettling, this is a thoughtful and life-affirming memoir, unforgettable for its humanity, its gentle pace. McPherson has traveled the world and never lost sight of the inspirational lure of one's origins.