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 Keene debuts in fiction with a dense, intelligent, poetic, highly allusive word-tapestry that takes on subjects low and high, brings up scoopfuls of history, theorizes endlessly--and tells the story of a boy growing up black in St. Louis, beginning with his birth in 1965 and ending as he heads for Harvard. An easy read it isn't, however, as suggested even by the titles of its short, prose-poem-like ``chapters''--``Signs, Scenes, a Psychic Trail of Assignations,'' for example, or ``Permanence or Evanescence, the Process of the Real.'' Yet the book does have an ongoing logic and narrative as an inner-city childhood is followed by a move to the suburbs, and as the nameless boy gradually becomes aware of his sexuality, intellect, and his interest in literature and poetry. Of daily life, there are siblings, the changing seasons, school and parents, a grandfather who grows vegetables, a great-aunt who expects good manners and decorum. The boy himself is called a sissy, is ridiculed for getting good grades, is ``chosen . . . last for any sport requiring aggression,'' and yet he's also the subject of his own grown and golden-tongued biographer, who says of him that ``His heart is a grotto bearing witness to other's kindnesses,'' or who mentions ``The kitchen of his body in which the fires of history were blazing.'' The history blazing inside is the history of region, race, self, and nation, and Keene summons up all, though briefly and always allusively. ``Our generation possesses only a cursory sense of the world that our ancestors braved,'' he declares, ``though the burdens of history bear unmovably upon us.'' As for his own method of pastiche, disjunction, and fleeting detail: ``The effect is essentially novelistic, though its fictiveness remains another matter.'' Tiny, and filled with enormous themes: a tour de force of intelligence, wordsmithing, and passion, with only a few notes slightly flat, and only now and then.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8112-1304-8
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995