TEN INDIANS by Madison Smartt Bell

TEN INDIANS

KIRKUS REVIEW

 The prolific Bell's ninth novel (All Souls' Rising, 1995, etc.) uses a miscellany of narrators to recount the experiences, and influence, of Mike Devlin, a middle-aged white psychiatrist who runs a tae kwon do school in a volatile black Baltimore neighborhood. A street tough named ``Trig,'' Sharmane, his sometime girlfriend and mother of his baby, along with several of their cohorts offer grim variant perspectives on an omniscient narrative that's told in flashback and in chapters numbered in reverse order, as in a countdown. It's the story of Devlin's divided life, ministering to the depressed and neurotic children of wealthy white parents (like the murderous eight-year-old ``sentenced to therapy for executing and mutilating the family cat'') while moonlighting as a martial-arts student and as a teacher who enlists the rootless black kids around him as his own students. The premise is just barely believable, and Bell gets much less mileage out of his account of Mike Devlin's hunger to ``do some good'' than in the novel's looser, less theme-driven moments. Scenes with his young psychiatric patients are especially compelling, and there's both tension and passion in Devlin's moments with his weary wife Alice and feisty daughter Michelle--whose involvement, however, both in the Oriental discipline that absorbs her father and in a clandestine relationship with one of his pupils tempts Bell into his old bad habit of locating meaning in climactic melodrama. Everything is shaped--much too schematically--toward a conclusion that proves the truth of Sharmane's phlegmatic pronouncement: ``Devlin rules work good inside of the school . . . but you get it on the street it don't mean nothing no more.'' Little happens, or is suggested, here that most readers won't anticipate. The novel packs some of Bell's inner-city grit and power, but he has done, and can do, better than this. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44246-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996




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