REUBEN by John Edgar Wideman


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Full of dazzling set pieces and flights of urban fancy, Wideman's first novel since his award-winning Sent For You Yesterday never quite coheres--it's a sprawling meditation on "the evil men do to their fellow men," and what holds it (tenuously) together is the "tired old Uncle Remus man" celebrated in the title. A hunchbacked homunculus, Reuben serves the Homewood section of Pittsburgh as a one-man legal-aid society. Decorous and eloquent, this tiny black man works from an old trailer, not much concerned with his clients' ability to pay. With his prodigious memory and mastery of government bureaucracy, Reuben delivers, even though, as we find out much later, his legal education--tricked from the frat boys he once served--doesn't make him a proper lawyer. He's a dreamer who dreams of ancient Egypt, African journeys, and conversations with the dead; he's a man "compulsively rehearsing his own life." Clients' stories break through his reveries: of Kwansa Parker, a whore of sorts, who's accused of being an unfit mother to her boy, Cudjoe; of Wally, a travelling college basketball recruiter, who confesses to killing white men in strange cities (or is it a fantasy of "abstract hate"?), and who tells the story of his friend, Bimbo, a popular soul crooner, crippled from the waist down in a car wreck (shades of Teddy Pendergrass). For every story listened to, Reuben has his own, including a breathtaking tale of sorrow and beauty from his tortured past. Different styles of rage and revenge animate these ghetto-based lives, each of which finds an apposite narrative voice. The elaborate dream-play and interiorized speechifying make for occasional confusion and excess. Otherwise, a truly luminous creation.
Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1987
ISBN: 2070732347
Page count: 253pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1987


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