TRAVELING LIGHT by Lionel Mitchell


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What Mitchell has set out to do here--detailing and chronicling what New York's Lower East Side was like for a black man living the bohemian life in the Sixties--makes for an interesting enough study; but a little more novel to go along with the exhaustive sociology might have been welcome. Boo Carter, originally from New Orleans, comes to New York having been impressed with the white ""beat"" life he encountered at home, the aura of choice around it. He moves into a West Side rooming house, promptly if reluctantly becoming involved in drug deals, rip-offs, bad scenes; when he can, he relocates, down to the East Village. Boo makes friends: Sebastian, a gay white painter; Kathy, a white neighbor whom Boo rapes and thus wins, in true Sixties black/white/sexual-sociology style. And, on welfare or working as a grease-joint fry cook, Boo is generally free to be on the scene, to be the locus for Mitchell's divigations upon East Village mores. Acutely diagnosed, for instance, is the tension of the times between ghetto vigilance and bohemian lassitude--how an East Village black man fell somewhere between militant and uptown hustler but was never quite either one. And Boo and Kathy have one fight that crystallizes the interracial guilts and powers and sexual traps that a writer like Calvin Herndon has already explored so revealingly. But, hard as he tries, Mitchell is no Balzac: Boo, in dialogue, is underwhelming; the narrative is puny, the exposition is long. And this first novel registers mostly as a long, stored-up diatribe/essay/thesis that knows its territory in deep detail but is finally unable to coax some drama from it.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1980
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row