Inner-city chronicler Miller (I’m Telling, 2002, etc.) returns to drug dealers, welfare moms, and violent teenagers.
Three twentysomething, politically correct friends are determined to survive and thrive: Brenda Carver is an African-American single mother of four, on welfare, who wants to be a novelist; Rosa Rivera is a Puerto Rican who dreams of becoming an actress; and Sharif Goldsby is a gay activist who wants to improve people’s lives. All three live in the Ida B. Barrett Wells Tower, a federally subsidized project in Harlem rumored to be scheduled for demolition and replacement by luxury apartments. Miller’s prose is as graphic and gritty as her setting, and the story, though not exactly uplifting, is testimony to hope and perseverance despite a slight presence of the clumsy and formulaic (in the epilogue we learn that the story just told is the first draft of Brenda’s roman à clef novel). The residents of Ida B. routinely defraud the federal government, sell stolen goods, take drugs, and have indiscriminate sexual liaisons. Their response to trouble is often violence, so when foster child Jimmy, who’s been living with Brenda’s mother across the hall, is brutally raped and murdered by Ronald, who lives with his mother in the block, Ronald is then shot in vengeance by another resident, the college-bound Ricky. Immediately, Brenda, whose son found Jimmy’s body stuffed into a clothes dryer; Rosa, who finally has a part in a downtown play; and Sharif, an old protest-pro, decide to get Ricky out of trouble. They organize protests against the police; with the help of Rosa’s well-connected director, they find a lawyer; and an old friend whose mom, the resident fence, lives in the block is willing for reasons of his own to confess to the murder. Ida B. is destined for destruction, but the three friends are not.
Third-novelist Miller gets the details down, but the characters remain clichés without inner lives or credibility.