A long, brimstone-filled novel of a black writer's cynically manipulated, frustration-knotted career. Cato Douglass is this novelist, doing his New York apprenticeship with white fellow-writer hopefuls--one of whom, Paul Cummings, will achieve the fame and riches that Cato is denied. . . only to ultimately kill himself (an act which Cato, even at his most desperate, could not afford to entertain). Williams focuses on Cato's early/middle years: his first novel is sold; he takes a trip through Spain (having a son by a Spanish woman there). And when he returns, he meets white Allis at the Bread Loaf writer's summer camp, marrying her despite her old Jewish father's offer of a payoff not to marry. Thus, finances enter Cato's personal life as gracelessly and humiliatingly as they do his professional life: his novels, although each one is published, are in every instance used as a social sop by their publishers--a situation that trickles down poisonously to the black writers as a class, with all of them in terrible competition for what are, in effect, crumbs of the fame/money literary pie. The late Sixties only make all this worse: there's fearful lionizing of minor talents, then a wholesale dumping of minor and major talents alike once black becomes ""out."" And Williams' novel is witheringly precise about the financial powerlessness of black (or any) writers. Still, as fiction, this book is fiercely flawed: Williams' sentences are surprisingly clumsy (""l thought I heard, though I wasn't sure, a sound like a sob screaming to emerge. . .""); the references are terse and staccato to the point of scorn; and though Cato's love for his sons is the novel's strongest theme--it makes him an attractive, strong, horribly tormented character--there's little else here to temper the Job-like keening that runs throughout. Painfully personal, tremendously angry writing, then--but engrossing only in its documentary aspects.